(AP) Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds said Thursday that he will run for the U.S. Senate in 2014, setting the stage for what will likely be a high profile race between the Republican and the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Tim Johnson.
Rounds, 58, said he has worked well with Johnson in the past and considers him a friend. But he said he and Johnson disagree on some key issues.
At this stage of the game, it's a matter of the direction of this country, Rounds said.
Johnson, 65, released a statement Thursday saying he intends to put together a winning campaign in the weeks and months ahead, and that he will formally announce next year whether he'll seek a fourth term.
At a news conference announcing his candidacy, Rounds said he is running because he wants to end gridlock in Washington and help reduce the federal deficit, straighten out health care reform, set good farm policies and protect industry from undue regulation.
Rounds said he learned during his two terms as governor that an elected official can stick to principles, such as controlling government spending, and still get things done.
We need to become a country of cooperation instead of confrontation, he told a crowd of about 100 who showed up for his announcement.
Rounds was a state senator from 1991 to 2001 before serving two terms as governor from 2003 to 2011. After leaving office in early 2011, Rounds returned to his job as president and CEO of an insurance and real estate company based in Pierre.
Johnson was elected to the U.S. House in 1986 and to the Senate in 1996. He was re-elected in 2002 and 2008. He also previously served in the state Legislature.
The state Democratic Party immediately mounted a defense after the morning announcement. Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf called Rounds a nice guy with the wrong priorities for South Dakota.
Johnson was more complimentary.
I had an excellent working relationship with (Rounds) during his eight years as Governor, and the fact that he has already re-stated his refusal to take the Grover Norquist 'no tax increases under any circumstances' pledge is a very good sign, Johnson said in a statement.
But he added that he still feels great and has work to do.
In the meantime, I intend to continue to focus on my important work representing South Dakota, he said.
Johnson defeated prostate cancer in 2004 and had surgery in December 2006 to stop bleeding in his brain. He was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, a condition that causes arteries and veins in the brain to grow abnormally large, become tangled and sometimes burst.
Bob Burns, a retired South Dakota State University political science professor, said Rounds will be a formidable candidate and Johnson represents the Democrats' best chance of keeping the seat.
Rounds became known as Mr. Nice Guy, after he won the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary against two other candidates who engaged in a nasty battle of attacks, and Rounds was able to maintain that image through his years as governor, Burns said.
He left the office of governor without receiving a lot of sharp criticism, but at the same time not garnering an undue enthusiasm either, Burns said.
Rounds said he doesn't expect the campaign to begin in earnest until early 2014, but he had to declare his candidacy now to begin building the campaign organization and raising the money needed to challenge an incumbent.
His campaign said his accomplishments as governor included beginning construction of an underground science laboratory at the former Homestake gold mine in the Black Hills, boosting tourism, increasing research at state universities, creating college scholarships, working with the congressional delegation to save Ellsworth Air Force Base from closure in 2005, and helping to make South Dakota a business-friendly state with low taxes.
Rounds said he meant it when he said several years ago he did not want to run for the Senate, but he is running now to make sure his five grandchildren and other young Americans are not saddled with a huge federal debt and have a chance to get an education and good jobs.
If you can make a difference, you should step forward. That's the reason I'm running. I think I can make a difference, Rounds said.