South Dakota no longer celebrates Columbus Day. The second Monday in October has been Native American Day since 1990 and that’s a very appropriate thing.

The old sailor didn’t find anything. North and South America were here all the time and the millions of people who called it home had no need to be “discovered.”

Often, people who are ignorant about something stumble across it and think they have news to report. We’re seeing another example of that right now in the coverage of our fascinating Senate race.

The contest between Republican Mike Rounds, a former two-term governor who has never lost an election, Democrat Rick Weiland, who is 0-2 in campaigns, and former Congressman and Senator Larry Pressler, who is 6-2 in 40 years of races, has been compelling to observe for months.

The national media has suddenly taken notice. Look at the recent headlines — here’s just a sampling:

The Washington Post: “There's something very interesting happening in South Dakota.”

The New YorkTimes: “South Dakota Senate Race Suddenly Looks Harder to Predict.”

Fox News: “Once-sleepy South Dakota Senate race could pose problem for GOP.”

Christian Science Monitor: “A surprise brewing in South Dakota's Senate race?”

The sudden interest makes sense. For months, journalists viewed the election as a foregone conclusion: Rounds would win in a walk.

He was a popular figure in a very red state. His Democratic opponent was lesser known, with no record of success and little money. Pressler was seen as an interesting, even amusing sidebar on the story.

Independent Gordon Howie was ignored, as he still is, for the most part. Polls show most voters feel that way about him, too.

But Pressler has come on in recent weeks. New polls show him in a close race with Rounds for the lead, with Weiland right behind. It seems likely the winner will have less than 40 percent of the vote.

Although who knows? There may well be another twist or two in this race.

The slow-emerging EB-5 story may yet turn into a full-blown scandal. That could send Rounds into a spiral that he cannot pull out of in the final days.

Weiland could be persuaded to suspend his campaign and endorse Pressler, in part to keep Rounds out of office while giving President Obama a “friend” in the Senate.

Or Pressler, who is seriously outgunned financially, especially with national Democrats dumping $2 million into the Weiland race and Rounds well-heeled, could start to slip.

Both the Democrats and Republicans are sure to take aim at Pressler in the closing weeks. They will use their money, their organizations and their friends in the media to attack him.

Liberal talk show host Rachel Maddow started in on Pressler last week, devoting several minutes of her MSNBC show to repeat rumors and dismissive quotes about him. Maddow especially enjoyed telling the old “lost in the closet” story that has been floating around for more than 20 years.

She offered no attribution but was gleeful in the recounting.

Expect to see the other side of the partisan media, Fox News, also fire away at Pressler. It’s the price he will pay for his success.

Control of the Senate may be at stake, and Pressler has said he may not caucus with either party. That would give him a great deal of leverage and neither side wants that.

It is a great story, so the national media will be focused on the Senate race right up until Election Day.

Maybe we should name October 2014 Discover South Dakota Month.

South Dakota native Tom Lawrence, a former Pioneer executive editor, has written about the state, its politics and people since 1978. Read his blog Prairie Perspective at and follow him on Twitter at @TLCF26.


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