A new poll of the South Dakota Senate race shows former three-term GOP senator Larry Pressler, now running as an independent, has surged into second place and is within the margin of error against former governor Mike Rounds (R).
The poll, from automated pollster SurveyUSA, shows Rounds at 35 percent, Pressler at 32 percent and Democrat Rick Weiland at 28 percent. A month ago, Rounds led Weiland by 11 points, while Pressler trailed just behind Weiland in third place.
So do we have another Greg Orman situation on our hands?
Well, possibly. But it's too early to say for certain.
Here's what we do know:
1) Other polls have shown Pressler gaining, but not to this extent. A poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling last week still showed Pressler in third place, 11 points behind Rounds. And another poll from Nielsen Brothers showed much the same thing, with Pressler 15 points back.
This is the first poll to show Rounds in such serious trouble, against either Weiland or Pressler.
2) Rounds has never looked he'd win in a absolute blowout, either. Despite national Democrats having largely thrown in the towel from the start, Rounds hasn't looked overly strong. In fact, he hasn't polled above 44 percent his year.
You might think that's because he's facing a former Republican senator who is pulling votes from him. But actually, polls show Pressler is competing for votes more with Weiland. In fact, the new SurveyUSA poll shows a race without Weiland would favor Pressler by 15 points (!), 54-39. (That's pretty Orman-esque.) And PPP has Rounds's favorable/unfavorable split 41/51.
Clearly, the once-popular governor isn't a world-beater. Then again, he doesn't need to be in a three-way race. He only needs a plurality.
3) Speaking of money, Pressler doesn't have much. Whatever momentum the former senator has, he might struggle down the stretch thanks to a lack of funds. He has only raised about $100,000 so far for his entire campaign and has self-funded another $200,000. He had $151,000 in the bank, as of Sept. 30.
Rounds, meanwhile, raised $830,000 over the past three months alone and had $1.1 million in the bank as of Sept. 30. And a group just went up with a $1 million ad campaign to boost Weiland.
4) Rounds hasn't gone negative. While Rounds has endured negative ads, he thus far hasn't gone negative himself. If he does, you'll know that his campaign is getting concerned.
5) It's turning into a very interesting election year for independents. Orman is favored to knock off an incumbent senator in Kansas, independent Bill Walker has a great shot at beating Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) in a very similar setup in which the Democrat dropped out, and now we've got Pressler threatening in South Dakota.
The Senate has never had more than the two independents it currently has. Come January, it's at least plausible that it could have four. And if Orman's potential win (and his refusal to say with whom he'd caucus) has already complicated the GOP's majority math, try inserting two new independent senators to the mix.
But first, let's wait and see if other polls show such a scary situation for Rounds.
Update 3:25 p.m.: Democrats clearly think there's an opening here, with Bloomberg reporting that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will spend $1 million in this heretofore neglected state.
The money will apparently be used against Rounds in hopes that either Pressler or Weiland shoots the gap.
Of course, national Democrats have something of a strained relationship with Weiland.