Rick Weiland doesn’t yet have the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), but he is confident that will happen soon enough.
Reid and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet (Colo.) have been skeptical of Weiland’s candidacy to replace retiring Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.). They have been looking in vain for another candidate, and the filing deadline is just a few months away.
Despite the tension, Weiland believes he is making progress. He said he met with David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff on Tuesday, an indication that the Nevada Democrat — who once said of Weiland, “He’s not my candidate” — is warming to him.
Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson, pushed back on the idea that Reid was moving toward backing Weiland, and said Krone had taken the meeting “as a favor.”
“Not much to see here. David took the meeting as a favor, but Senator Reid’s stance hasn’t changed,” he told The Hill in an email.
Weiland said he understands the initial reluctance to back his candidacy but sounded a similarly optimistic note on the DSCC.
“I think they’ll come around. I think it’s just a matter of time,” he said.
Weiland arrived Monday for a two-day swing through the nation’s capital, punctuated by a Tuesday fundraiser co-hosted by 32 Democratic senators. Weiland’s backers include two of Reid’s top deputies, Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.).
The unusual leadership split on Weiland has marked South Dakota’s Senate race, which has became one of the GOP’s top pickup opportunities this cycle.
Fearful that Weiland, a two-time failed congressional candidate, would cost them the seat, the DSCC has continued to look for a contender in the race even after ex-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) opted not to run.
But Weiland says the support of the 32 senators (including Johnson), as well as the backing of labor, education and tribal groups he’s attracted since he announced his campaign, is helping to persuade the DSCC.
“I believe we’ve set out to do what needed to be done to convince a lot of the so-called political experts, the sort of political class, if you will, that: One, this was a doable race. It could be won. And, two, that I was the right kind of candidate.”
Weiland says his populist message, which critics have called “too liberal” for a state President Obama lost by 18 points in 2012, will resonate with South Dakotans and deliver him a win.
“Some of these positions we’ve taken … I think they’re very practical in a state like South Dakota,” said Weiland, a former aide to ex-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
Weiland said he is “absolutely for” rejuvenating the Glass-Steagall Act, a pet cause of progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
He cited, in particular, his support for a public option as part of healthcare reform and pledged to make that happen if elected. Weiland has made his opposition to the influence of big money in politics a centerpiece of his campaign and said that corporate sway was part of what undermined the Affordable Care Act.
“We ended up with a basically private health insurance-only option. And so I really do believe that part of that is being driven by big money influence in this country,” he said.
“We used to have, in some respects, more of a free enterprise system. I think it’s almost become rigged because of big money and its influence on Congress.”
He has distanced himself from Obama on core issues, ranging from possible U.S. military intervention in Syria to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent actions on ethanol.
Weiland is likely to face former Gov. Mike Rounds in the general election, if Rounds makes it through what’s already been a testy Republican primary.
The 55-year-old Democrat is a clear underdog, a role he says doesn’t bother him. Still, a Democratic poll in October showed him trailing Rounds by just six points in a three-way matchup, including a libertarian candidate in the race.
Weiland, whose campaign war chest is less than a third of Rounds’s, touts his focus on developing grassroots support rather than raising cash.
He said that was the biggest lesson he’s learned since his prior congressional bids.
“In the past, my campaigns seemed to all be focused around staying on the phones and raising money,” he said.
“I always felt that I was cheated. … I want to go out and talk to the people of South Dakota,” he added.
Weiland has vowed to visit all of South Dakota’s 311 towns and communities, pointing out that he’s been to 240 of them this year.