Former GOP Senator Announces Independent Bid For Senate In South Dakota


Larry Pressler, a Republican who served in the U.S. Senate from South Dakota who served from 1979 through 1997, is running for Senate as an Independent, a bid that could have an impact on the battle for control of the SenatIe:

Is South Dakota ready for a comeback from Larry Pressler?

Turned out of the Senate after three terms by Tim Johnson in 1996, Pressler will run for the same seat 18 years later.

“Today, I am announcing that I am running for the United States Senate, and I intend to win,” Pressler said.

But Pressler, 71, a lifelong Republican who was in the GOP for his entire time in Congress, won’t be in that party’s crowded primary. Instead, he’d run as an independent, giving voters next November a third choice between presumed Democratic nominee Rick Weiland and the Republicans’ top candidate.

“I want to … end the poisonous bipartisan deadlock in Washington,” Pressler said this week.

Long a moderate Republican, Pressler broke with his own party in the past several years. He endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012. Today, he says he’s a “deficit hawk” who wants to balance the budget in part by cutting back on foreign military spending. That includes canceling unneeded weapons projects and closing some overseas bases.

“Congress is building all kinds of weapons that the Pentagon says we don’t need anymore,” Pressler said.

He considers himself “moderately conservative.” Pressler said he’d have voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but he thinks that it can’t just be repealed now that it’s in place.

“We can’t just be against Obamacare and not be for something else,” Pressler said. “We have to fix it up now.”

The real question, of course, is whether Pressler really has any kind of shot in a race that, at least at the moment, is viewed as one of the GOP’s best shots for a pickup next year, or whether his presence in the race would have a significant impact on the race even if he’s unlikely to win. For the moment at least, veteran political analyst Stu Rothenberg seems skeptical:

“It’s hard for me to believe that people are going to take Larry Pressler seriously as a contender for the United States Senate,” said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “There will be some people who like the idea that he’s not a Republican or Democrat, and are so outraged with Washington that they say we need an independent. But it’s not as easy as that.”

Rothenberg said Pressler’s shift from Republican senator to endorsing Obama to now running as an independent might confuse voters and opens Pressler up to attacks. Pressler, too, predicted he’d be hit from all sides.

The first test will be in the initial rounds of polling over the coming months or two. Pressler may end up polling higher than you’d expect from a third-party candidate thanks to his name recognition, although the fact that he’s been out of office since 1997 may reduce the impact of that particular variable. As for which candidate he might help in a General Election, that’s hard to say and something we’ll have to wait for polling to start telling us.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. superdestroyer says:

    Pressler is doing nothing more than ensuring that a Democrat is the next Senator from South Dakota. It seems like these days, most of the third party candidates are oddball Republicans who want some sort of revenge on other Republicans.

    Pressler obivously does not care about the budget is he is willing to let the Democrats keep control of the Senate where those same Republicans will expand entitlements and social security spending.

  2. edmondo says:

    “It’s hard for me to believe that people are going to take Larry Pressler seriously…” said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

    There are a lot of us who have the same feeling about Stu Rothenberg.

  3. Todd says:


    Reading about some of his positions, it sounds to me like he’d be more likely to takes votes from the Democratic candidate in a state like South Dakota. A lot probably depends on who wins the GOP primary.

  4. Stonetools says:

    Hoping against hope it creates a chance for a Democratic pickup.

  5. Neil says:

    Former Gov Mike Rounds is expected to be the GOP candidate isn’t he? In a 2 way race he was thought to be an overwhelming favorite. If Pressler runs it sounds like he is attempting to be a “spoiler.” Not sure how he can call himself a moderate conservative when he endorsed 0bama twice.

  6. Pinky says:

    Don’t write off Pressler. He could have cutting-edge positions on issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment and the Panama Canal Treaty.

  7. superdestroyer says:


    A real political reporter would report on the grudge between Gov. Rounds and Sen. Pressler. What caused the grudge and why Pressler hates Rounds enough to want to throw the election for Democrats. But these days, such reporting seems beyond what journalist are capable of doing.