A second independent candidate is jumping into the South Dakota Senate race, but former state Sen. Gordon Howie is running as an avowed conservative.

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“I am a Republican philosophically. I am now a registered independent, but I fully embrace the Republican Party platform. That is a significant difference between me and some other Republicans who are running for office,” Howie told The Hill, a reference to former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican establishment pick for the nomination.

Rounds is the frontrunner in the race and has posted a solid lead in fundraising and what scant polling has been done of the primary over his three main primary opponents.

Howie said he supports one of those primary opponents in particular, state Rep. Stace Nelson, and will drop out of the race if Nelson wins the primary — but that outcome, he said, doesn’t look likely.
 
“My Stace Nelson signs are staying up through the primary,” he said. “This is basically a plan B, should Stace Nelson not win.”

Howie said a group of supporters had “done the polling and the foundational work and said, ‘Look, if you get in this thing we think you’ll have a good shot at it.' ” He wouldn’t disclose what people had urged him to get in, or the exact polling numbers.

“I was approached by a group of people who said, ‘If you do not get in, Mike Rounds is the next U.S. senator.' And I’ve never been a Mike Rounds fan. Philosophically, he doesn’t represent our conservative values.”

But while Howie hopes to offer a conservative alternative to Rounds, his candidacy runs the risk of opening a wider lane for the Democratic candidate, Rick Weiland.

Weiland is considered the underdog in the race, as the national party's third pick after two stronger candidates opted out. He has yet to draw the endorsement of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and national Democrats believe he’s a poor fit for the state.

But with former GOP Sen. Larry Pressler also running as an independent, he and Howie could draw Republican votes away from Rounds and deliver Weiland the opportunity to win with just a plurality of votes. Howie said he’s not worried about such an outcome because he believes Pressler will draw votes from Weiland, not Rounds.

Howie came in fourth in the 2010 gubernatorial primary with just 12 percent of the vote after facing fundraising troubles. He cited that as the primary lesson he’s learned since that bid.

“We’ve invested, in the last three years plus or minus, an incredible amount of energy getting our economic applecart right-side up,” he said.

He currently owns a conservative media company, a real estate company, is selling a ranch and runs international hunting trips and safaris, according to his website.

He said he “wouldn’t preclude” contributing to his own campaign, but that he believed his support would ultimately come from grassroots contributors.

But he acknowledged that he starts off at a disadvantage, as Rounds, at the end of last year, had more than $1.1 million cash in the bank.

Asked if he’d like to mention anything in particular about the race, Howie laughed and said, “Yeah, send money!”