The South Dakota Senate race is emerging as a test of a longtime contention of progressives: Democrats can win even on difficult political terrain by unabashedly campaigning on an economically populist platform excoriating big money’s influence in politics and its role in rigging the economy against working and middle class Americans. Whether this is true or not, in South Dakota an extraordinary set of circumstances is emerging that might help the populist Democrat in the race, Rick Weiland.

The race probably remains a long shot for Weiland. But the situation is getting very, very interesting.

The Washington Examiner reports this morning that national Republicans are concerned about the plight of the front-runner, former GOP governor Mike Rounds. Yesterday Bloomberg reported that national Dems will sink $1 million into attacks on Rounds, after a poll showed the independent candidate, Larry Pressler, unexpectedly close to Rounds. The Examiner reports that national Republicans think Rounds will probably be okay, but if necessary, they will spend money attacking Pressler:

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Insiders say there is a very simple solution and it’s a reason they remain encouraged that this problem will be mitigated: Run television ads that target Pressler for supporting Obama and administration policies. That could be more imperative now that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other liberal groups have seized on the new polls and announced plans to attack Rounds.

One GOP insider said of national Republicans: “The hope is that they don’t have to spend any money. But they would spend money if they need to.”

Missing from this analysis, however, is the possibility that this could help Weiland. Right now, Pressler is trying to catch up with Rounds; and if this persists, national Republicans will sink money into dragging down Pressler. Meanwhile, national Democrats are spending big money in dragging down Rounds.  But in the background, liberal groups, who have already pledged to spend $1 million on this race, are quietly eying plans to invest more money in boosting up Weiland.

“If Republicans target Pressler, we will likely reallocate our resources towards boosting Weiland more,” one operative who is working closely with the coalition of liberal groups that is investing in Weiland tells me. “The dynamics of this race tell us that no candidate will get more than the high 30s to win. We think once Pressler is attacked, there are independent voters who will move to Weiland as we build his profile.”

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The latest Survey USA poll has Rounds at 35 percent, Pressler at 32 percent, and Weiland is at 28 percent. That puts Weiland behind by seven points — hard to overcome. But even if Pressler wins, he could caucus with Democrats. And even if that is not in the cards, before we get to that point, Dems are hoping to force Republicans to invest in propping up Rounds.

For all we know, future polls may show Rounds with a comfortable lead, meaning this could come to nothing. But if there is one thing that is certain about this Senate map right now, as even some Republicans acknowledge, it’s how uncertain and fluid it has become.

* WHAT TO WATCH IN SOUTH DAKOTA: National Dems investing $1 million in the South Dakota race are prepping plans to attack Rounds over his handling of the “EB-5” affair. The Argus Leader has a primer on this complicated mess of dealings involving abuses of a federal economic development program, lawsuits, and a suicide.

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However this turns out, the short term plan of Democrats is to force Republicans to sink resources into propping up their candidate.

* TOM COTTON’S DEMAGOGUERY DEBUNKED: Must read: Glenn Kessler has a remarkably comprehensive and brutal takedown of Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton’s claim of collaboration between ISIS and Mexican drug cartels. As Kessler notes, the sources of this claim are right wing media and include one of the leading purveyor of the charge of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. What could go wrong?

Also notable: Administration officials say there is no evidence ISIS is trying to cross the southern border, prompting Kessler to wonder “why Cotton would rely on information of dubious provenance rather than statements from U.S. government officials.” Maybe it’s the closed conservative feedback loop in action…

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* SHAHEEN LEADS SCOTT BROWN: A new WMUR poll finds Senator Jeanne Shaheen has expanded her lead over Scott Brown to 47-41. And: “Brown’s net favorability has declined to minus-19 percent, down significantly from minus-2 percent in August.”

The average has Shaheen up four, so this may be slipping off the map for Republicans. However, Dems still have two major purple-state trouble spots: Iowa and Colorado.

* DAN SULLIVAN LEADS MARK BEGICH: A new CNN poll finds Republican Dan Sullivan leading Senator Mark Begich among likely voters in Alaska by 50-44. The average has Sullivan up by four points.

The caveats: Alaska is notoriously difficult to poll in part because of its far flung rural areas, and Dems have undertaken a massive organizing drive in those areas. Still, there’s no sugar-coating it: In a state Mitt Romney carried by 14 points, Begich faces an uphill battle.

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* DEMS HAVE NEW HOPE IN GEORGIA: The Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe reports that even Republicans are concerned that the Georgia Senate race has tightened, thanks to a “well coordinated and aggressive” assault on GOP candidate David Perdue’s business record. Notable: Democrats are circulating video of Perdue claiming he is “proud” of his outsourcing past. This has not been put in ads yet, but you can be sure it will be soon enough.

* AND IGNORE THOSE FOX POLLS! Republicans and some neutral analysts went mad with glee about yesterday’s Fox polls showing multiple GOP Senate candidates with large leads. FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten brings some much needed perspective, noting that once you factor in the GOP lean of Fox polling, these leads mostly evaporate, meaning they are having virtually no impact on the overall Senate forecast.

And that forecast remains (once again) that Republicans are marginally favored to take the Senate, but that many of these races remain closely competitive.

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