And, to be honest, Nelson is the GOP's best bet to beat Herseth Sandlin. The polls show he has the best chance of hauling in voters beyond the third of South Dakota voters who would vote for a pancake if the blueberries spelled "GOP."
Why is Nelson the heat? Because he's a nice guy... and because he's proven he can put the rule of law above political calculation. Kevin Woster covers the wariness some über-conservative abortion voters have over Nelson's pursuit of Roger Hunt's big anonymous donor:
“Everybody was confused. He kept appealing and appealing and appealing,” said Dr. Allen Unruh, a Sioux Falls chiropractor and long-time abortion foe. “All I can say is different people are questioning why Chris did that. And I think he’s got reservations about why he did it now, too.”
Nelson is aware of those reservations and their potential to cost him votes in June. But he doesn’t second-guess his decision to push the case, based his understanding of campaign finance law and advice from the state attorney general.
“There are still folks out there who believe I should not have pursued what both the attorney general and I felt the law was,” Nelson said. “Yeah, those folks are still out there. And they’re entitled to their opinion. But the attorney general and I both felt that the law required the reporting of that name” [Kevin Woster, "Long After Abortion Wars, Resentment Toward Chris Nelson Lingers," Rapid City Journal, 2010.02.28].
I can respect a candidate who can look the rabid political rabble (and potential donors) in the eye and say, "But the law's the law." So can a lot of the electorate, including the independents whose vote must be won to unseat Herseth Sandlin.