Former South Dakota Sen. Larry Pressler, who served in the House and Senate as a Republican and trying to return to the Senate as an independent, stopped by Monday night’s Roll Call Book Club at Hill Center , which happened to be discussing Charles Wheelan’s “The Centrist Manifesto,” a book arguing for the need to elect centrists not affiliated with the two major parties to Congress.
“It’s tough running as an independent. You get classified as someone who can’t win,” Pressler said.
The match of aspiring lawmaker to book discussion couldn’t have been a better fit. Wheelan’s call for more pragmatic lawmakers hinges on a Senate-first strategy. He argues that with the Electoral College rigged against third-party candidates and the House an ungovernable and gerrymandered mess, centrists should focus on elected a handful or so to the Senate where they could help dictate the agenda in a closely divided body.
“Angus King proved this could be done,” Wheelan said of the Maine independent elected in 2012. “Now he needs some more people to play with.” Wheelan, a Dartmouth professor of public policy, isn’t just theorizing. He’s putting some sweat equity into it with The Centrist Project, a 501 (c) (4) set up to help elect centrists to the Senate.
Pressler wants to be one of those such independents. “I’m enjoying the race,” he said. “My wife is my driver. We’re adding volunteers.” However, he bemoaned the lack of independent polling in South Dakota, which he said would vindicate his desire to run, predicting he would finish ahead in a survey. One example of the challenge facing him, though, is funding. Commissioning a poll, he said, was something he didn’t have the cash for at this point.
One avenue of support available to him, though, might be those inclined to support The Centrist Project. After the event, Wheelan and Pressler headed to dinner on Capitol Hill, at Acqua al 2 near Eastern Market. Perhaps a vetting, perhaps just a friendly dinner.