A former three-term Republican senator publicly mulling whether to make a comeback as an independent candidate counts as news. And Larry Pressler’s potential South Dakota Senate candidacy sounds more intriguing the more he talks.
Like, say, about whether he think he could actually win an election again.
“I think it’s possible but unlikely,” the 71-year-old told National Journal. “I think maybe I’d be like William Buckley. If I won the election, I would demand a recount.”
A day after the news broke that Pressler was considering a campaign, few political strategists knew what to make of his candidacy. Any candidate who doubts his own chances of victory is easy to dismiss. The fate of South Dakota’s Senate race, more than most, seems fixed: Former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, assuming he survives a primary nuisance, appears headed for the Senate in a solidly Republican state. Democrats failed to recruit a top-tier contender there.
But Pressler, who has spent much of his post-Senate career as a professor at several universities in South Dakota, isn’t a gadfly. He served as South Dakota’s GOP senator from 1979 to 1997. His name is still familiar to many South Dakota voters. And although he served as a Republican then, he’d run as an independent now, attempting to capitalize on widespread voter dissatisfaction with both parties.
Pressler is right: He’s a long shot. But his authenticity and candid comments could spice up an otherwise boring race. With polls reporting record dissatisfaction with the federal government, his candidacy could test whether voters would ever actually turn to an independent candidacy as an outlet for their frustration.
In an interview, he detailed a platform reminiscent of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan (he volunteered for the high-profile group Fix the Debt). He wants to close tax loopholes, and he favors another broad tax increase on the rich similar to what was included as part of this year’s fiscal-cliff deal. He also wants to gradually raise the Social Security retirement age, and supports slowing the growth of those payments, calling such an outcome “wonderful.”
Pressler, a self-described hunter, supports “much, much stronger background checks” for gun sales and banning some, if not all, assault rifles. He demurred when asked whether he would want to ban abortions at 20 weeks, but described himself as more on “antiabortion” side of the debate. He describes a foreign policy vision in which America scales back its defense budget and its involvement in international affairs.
The former lawmaker says he sees a political system in which both parties are too entrenched in their respective ideologies, at the expense of commonsense solutions. And he thinks voters see things the same way.
“We could have a budget deal very easily, and everybody is angry because we can’t we do it,” Pressler said. “My theory is by electing more independents “¦ this might break it loose.”
But despite his eagerness for raising taxes and cutting entitlement programs, those aren’t politically popular issues—even for independent-minded voters. His former GOP supporters will find plenty in his record to complain about. He supported President Obama twice and embraces gay marriage. Although he and his wife have retained a home in South Dakota, he estimated he’s only spent 10 percent to 20 percent of his time there in the last decade, splitting the bulk of his days between Washington and foreign countries. And he concedes that many of the people who once voted for him have either moved away or are now dead.
Pressler says there’s a “60/40” chance he’ll run; he’ll spend the remaining weeks of 2013 traveling South Dakota and make a decision by January.