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Country-singing Senate hopeful 'rocks' South Dakota race

By Ashley Codianni, CNN
updated 5:59 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rick Weiland is the Democratic hopeful in South Dakota's Senate race.
  • He rewrites popular songs for his campaign videos, including "Wagon Wheel."
  • Weiland is one of four Senate hopefuls in the race.
  • He's got another video on the way before the Nov. 4 election.

(CNN) -- Who inspired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to throw a million bucks at South Dakota? A country singing troubadour candidate who plays guitar, drives a minivan and makes a GOP tracker the star of his latest web ad.

Meet Rick Weiland, the Democratic hopeful who's trailing former Republican Governor Mike Rounds in a four-way race that also includes former Republican Senator Larry Pressler, running as an Independent and Gordon Howie, also an independent.

The ad features Weiland performing a modified version of the song "Wagon Wheel," which was originally written by Bob Dylan and later made popular by the band Old Crow Medicine Show. The original song's chorus "rock me momma like a wagon wheel" resonates well with both pop and country music fans.

South Dakota race has songs and poetry

Weiland, who has been turning popular music into campaign ads since the start of his campaign, was looking for a song that would connect more with millennials.

"I was driving around one day and that song came on" Weiland said. He then thought, "Well, that's gonna work."

When Weiland first started making music videos into campaign ads, he admitted it that it takes a lot of courage.

"We were a little concerned because no one had done it before," he said, "but we figured, what the heck, let's just keep coming up with good songs. It's been a lot of fun."

Wieland has also turned music into a family tradition, performing in a band with his two daughters, his brother and nephew called the "Take It Back Band." They perform regularly throughout South Dakota and even hold music festival events called "Rick-Stock," which is an obvious take on the famous Woodstock festival.

Weiland started combing music and politics in 1997 when he was a Regional Director for FEMA under the Cinton administration.

"We actually wrote some great FEMA songs," he said while reflecting on his time traveling with his former FEMA colleague and friend David DeCourcy.

With years of experience playing and traveling on the road, it's safe to say Weiland took this latest musical endeavor to a new level, modifying the lyrics to fit his campaign message.

He plays the guitar while singing his own chorus, "So I'm runnin' for the Senate but I ain't a big wheel, don't have an army, just my automobile."

Weiland might not be running a $9 million campaign like his Republican opponent Mike Rounds aims to raise, but he does have a new million-dollar bump to sing about.

"We actually wrote some great FEMA songs."
Rick Weiland, a former Regional Director for FEMA and Democratic candidate for South Dakota's U.S. Senate seat

The DSCC will spend $1 million on the race, mostly for television ads and to support field operations, Bloomberg Politics first reported.

"The DSCC obviously must think I can win," he said. "After slugging on my own here for more than a year and half with very little money, I haven't spent all my time fundraising, I've spent my money going to town to town and people are going to vote someone who has earned the privilege to represent them, not someone who is trying to buy their way in."

But it looks like the money won't help Weiland produce another "Wagon Wheel" style ad, with the funds expected to flood airwaves with attack ads hitting GOP nominee Rounds.

That's something groups have already done, with ads attacking Rounds over his alleged involvement in a visa program scandal in the state.

Those types of ads will likely help Weiland, but could also be a boon for Pressler, the independent who surged into second place in a SurveyUSA poll released Wednesday.

Weiland is now trailing both Rounds and Pressler by seven and four points, respectively, according to the poll. And the poll indicates Pressler is mostly pulling votes away from Weiland.

The investment in attack ads, rather than pro-Weilland ads suggests Democrats are confident either a Weiland or Pressler victory will help them keep control of the Senate. Bloomberg Politics reported that Democrats are confident Pressler, who endorsed Obama in 2008 and 2012, would caucus with Democrats if elected to the Senate, though Pressler has not said who he would side with.

It wouldn't be the first time this year Democrats have pinned their hopes on an Independent candidate polling better than his Democratic counterpart.

In Kansas, Democrats pulled their nominee out of the race to bolster businessman Greg Orman's bid to unseat Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Orman also has not said who he would caucus with, though Republicans have tried to paint him as "Obama's candidate for the Senate."

Pressler also won't get a chance to reproduce his style of advertising, one of which played up a popular Hollywood movie. Pressler's campaign even bought air time during the Oscars to play up the fact that he turned down a bribe in the Abscam scandal depicted in the movie "American Hustle."

As for Weiland, he's going to keep on campaigning on the ground, and keep on singing.

He revealed he has one more campaign music video to release before the Nov. 4 election. It's going to be a modified Johnny Cash classic, but instead of "I Walk The Line" it'll be called "I Draw The Line" and will go after one of Weiland's campaign staples, getting big money out of politics.

Also, here is the Old Crow Medicine Show's version of "Wagon Wheel."

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CNN's Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

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