Former Republican Senator Making His Comeback as an Independent

Larry Pressler of South Dakota served in the Senate for 18 years. He’s changed a lot since then.

National Journal
Alex Roarty
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Alex Roarty
Nov. 13, 2013, 6:30 a.m.

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.

What We're Following See More »
Chef Jose Andres Campaigns With Clinton
1 hours ago
White House Weighs in Against Non-Compete Contracts
2 hours ago

"The Obama administration on Tuesday called on U.S. states to ban agreements prohibiting many workers from moving to their employers’ rivals, saying it would lead to a more competitive labor market and faster wage growth. The administration said so-called non-compete agreements interfere with worker mobility and states should consider barring companies from requiring low-wage workers and other employees who are not privy to trade secrets or other special circumstances to sign them."

House Investigators Already Sharpening Their Spears for Clinton
3 hours ago

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz plans to spend "years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton." Chaffetz told the Washington Post: “It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

No Lobbying Clinton’s Transition Team
6 hours ago

Hillary Clinton's transition team has in place strict rules to limit the influence that lobbyists could have "in crafting the nominee’s policy agenda." The move makes it unlikely, at least for now, that Clinton would overturn Obama's executive order limiting the role that lobbyists play in government

Federal Government Employees Giving Money to Clinton
6 hours ago

Federal employees from 14 agencies have given nearly $2 million in campaign donations in the presidential race thus far, and 95 percent of the donations, totaling $1.9 million, have been to the Clinton campaign. Employees at the State Department, which Clinton lead for four years, has given 99 percent of its donations to the Democratic nominee.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.