The race for the Senate in 2014 is starting to take shape.
Former South Dakota governor Mike Rounds is launching an exploratory committee for a potential 2014 campaign, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. The move comes just after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday announced that his campaign manager would be Jesse Benton, a former aide to Ron Paul and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“I do have an interest in looking at the 2014 Senate race in South Dakota,” Rounds told the Argus Leader.
If Rounds follows through and runs, it will be a major early recruiting victory for the GOP.
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is up for reelection in 2014. But the senator, who suffered a brain aneurysm in 2006, is thought to be a prime candidate for retirement in two years time.
Regardless of whether he runs, South Dakota promises to be a top GOP target by virtue of its conservative lean. Republicans stole a Democratic seat in neighboring North Dakota in 2010 and have high hopes this year of winning seats in three neighboring states — Montana, North Dakota and Nebraska.
Rounds, a two-term governor who left office after the 2010 election, declined to challenge Johnson in 2008. Doing so would have been tough, given the outpouring of sympathy for the senator in the aftermath of his health problems and that it was a strong Democratic year.
Johnson won with 62 percent of the vote in 2008 after winning his previous two Senate campaigns with just 50 percent and 51 percent.
Rounds left office with very good approval numbers. An automated Rasmussen poll in October of 2010 showed 62 percent of South Dakotans approving of his job performance, with 37 percent disapproving.
2014 is shaping up to be a very difficult cycle for Democrats, who are already clinging to their Senate majority this year. McConnell is up, and Democrats could potentially target Maine Sen. Susan Collins's (R) seat, but every other Republican up for reelection comes from a red state.
Meanwhile, Republicans will have plenty of swing and red-state pickup opportunities, including Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).