How South Dakota became the Senate fight surprise

South Dakota race has songs and poetry
South Dakota race has songs and poetry

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South Dakota race has songs and poetry 03:15

Story highlights

  • A race for an open Senate seat in South Dakota was supposed to be an easy GOP pickup.
  • GOP hopefuls Mike Rounds has struggled to consolidate his party in this right of center state.
  • Former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler is running as an independent.
  • The Democratic candidate Rick Weiland has made waves with his country music videos.
Rick Weiland says when he was walking down the street making the music video for the song he wrote, a woman stopped him and thought he was country crooner Merle Haggard.
You can't blame her for being confused. It's not every day a candidate for Senate plays the guitar and puts his campaign message to song, let alone make a music video.
"I'm running for the Senate but I ain't a big wheel. I don't have an RV just my automobile. Hey, hey, no one's bought me," sings Weiland in the folksy, cheeky video.
"It got 39,000 hits on You Tube," Weiland tells us proudly, saying his son produced it.
The Democratic candidate says singing for the Senate is a good way to communicate, and helps show South Dakota voters who he really is. He now keeps his guitar in the car and pulls it out at rallies, like he did this week before an event with Sen. Tom Harkin of neighboring Iowa.
But he also does it out of necessity. Until recently he has been left for political dead by his national party in his bid to keep this open seat in Democratic hands.
South Dakota Senate race a game changer?
South Dakota Senate race a game changer?

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    South Dakota Senate race a game changer?

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South Dakota Senate race a game changer? 01:25
Dems. serious about trying to win S.D.?
Dems. serious about trying to win S.D.?

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Dems. serious about trying to win S.D.? 01:07
South Dakota's Senate race was supposed to be a shoe-in for the Republicans -- one of three guaranteed pick ups in their quest to gain 6 six Senate seats to capture the majority.
West Virginia and Montana, the other two, still seem like sure bets for the GOP, but South Dakota is suddenly iffy.
There are many reasons that the contest has shifted into a four-way race that includes former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, now running as an independent, and tea party candidate Gordon Howie.
As a result, it has been hard for Republican candidate Mike Rounds, a former two-term governor, to consolidate his party in this right of center state.
Rounds is also under fire for abuses in South Dakota, during his time as governor, of a federal program to swap green cards for business.
He told CNN, as he has before, that he did nothing wrong and has nothing to hide, but he concedes the questions about it have taken a toll on his campaign.
"It is one way to say 'big scandal,' suggesting a big scandal and that takes away from the issue of Obamacare and making it an issue, it takes away from the Keystone XL pipeline and getting it built and these are things that Democrats in South Dakota are absolutely on the wrong side of it," Rounds said.
Several Republican strategists and high ranking officials in Washington tell CNN that Rounds' problems have been compounded by the fact that he was slow to fight back. He has always run campaigns without attack ads and didn't want to start now.
When we put that criticism from fellow Republicans to Rounds, he chuckled.
"We appreciate their input, we can learn as well, but there is also a way to win in South Dakota. We've won in the past, we think we're still on top of the way we think people in South Dakota want to see campaigns won," Rounds said.
Pressler, an independent, thinks he knows how campaigns are won here too. He was a Republican senator for 18 years, and the At-Large Representative before that.
But he was defeated 18 years ago, and admits the world has changed a lot in that time.
Pressler says the GOP in South Dakota got too conservative and the Senate he once served is paralyzed with partisanship. That's why he wants to run for just one more term, to help change it.
"Well it's a very bitter place," he said in an interview.
But the more flux this race is in, the more Pressler is attacked from all sides as a spoiler -- especially by the GOP.
They're reminding voters Pressler supports the president's signature health care law and voted for the Democratic president twice.
Pressler won't say which party he would caucus with if he wins the Senate seat.
Some Democrats here are worried he will take votes from Weiland, especially because another concern is that he is too liberal for South Dakota.
He scoffs at that, saying that's "national conventional wisdom -- the same national conventional wisdom that said this state was lost."