SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds on Tuesday cruised to victory in the Republican party for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, giving Republicans a strong chance to win a seat from Democrats in the November election.
Rounds, who served as governor for eight years until 2011, was widely considered the GOP front-runner from the start of the race and easily won over four other candidates. The 59-year-old insurance agency executive topped state Sen. Larry Rhoden, state Rep. Stace Nelson, attorney and Army Reserves Maj. Jason Ravnsborg, and physician Annette Bosworth. Rounds needed 35 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff with the second-place finisher and he was getting well over half the vote.
Rounds will face Democrat Rick Weiland, who was unopposed within his party, and two independent candidates in the Nov. 4 general election. Weiland is a Sioux Falls restaurant owner who once worked for former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle. Running without party affiliation are former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler and former state lawmaker Gordon Howie.
South Dakota leans heavily Republican, although state voters in past elections have sometimes sent Democrats to Washington. Some 46 percent of South Dakota registered voters are Republican, 34 percent Democrat and 16 percent Independent.
Republicans believe South Dakota presents one of their best chances nationally to take a seat from Democrats. The GOP needs a net gain of six seats to have a majority in the U.S. Senate.