Bob Mercer recycles an attempted headline and overstates the importance of B. Thomas Marking in South Dakota's 2010 Congressional race:

Statewide, Marking did the best of any third-line candidate in a South Dakota election for U.S. House in more than 80 years.

He received 5.99 percent of the votes. That truly made Marking the difference-maker between Noem, who won with 48.12 percent, and Herseth, who lost with 45.89 percent [Bob Mercer, "A Strange History," Mitchell Daily Republic, September 10, 2012].

Mercer's tells his strange history in a strange vacuum in which the deciding factor in Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's unemployment was a quirky older gentleman from Custer and not predictable mid-term frustration with a slow economic recovery or the corporate-manufactured Obama-hating outrage of the Tea Party. Mercer mentions neither of those factors. He just talks votes and campaign contributions.

Even the numbers he does mention don't add up his Marking-made-Noem thesis. Mercer has no evidence that Marking pulled either campaign dollars or votes from Herseth Sandlin in any larger proportion than from Noem. Nor does anyone else. Marking himself said after the election that he believes he pulled votes from both Noem and Herseth Sandlin in roughly equal proportion.

Marking saw his 6% finish as typical of third-party candidates. Mercer notes that Marking did better than any South Dakota House third-party candidate since 1926, but Mercer ignores the fact that lunatic fringe candidate Lori Stacey got a handful more votes in the Secretary of State's race than Marking got in the House race. We can't tell whether people who voted for Stacey also voted for Marking, but it would seem that about 6% of the South Dakota electorate wanted a third choice, and they didn't care if it was a cantankerous grandpa or a right-wing conspiracy theorist.

Mercer says "Marking's 19,134 votes flow could well decide this election between Noem and her Democratic challenger Matt Varilek." But Mercer then bounces from that pregnant could to a recitation of campaign finance figures that have no connection with the intent of Marking voters.

For those of you left empty by Mercer's failure of logic and evidence, I offer this shadow of a hypothesis:

  1. Marking offered safe haven to an equal split of Democrats unhappy with SHS blue-doggery and Republicans appalled at Noem's lack of qualifications. Voting for Marking allowed those partisans to register their disapproval but keep the blood off their hands.
  2. The Marking Dems may be unhappy with Varilek for his wishy-washiness on gay marriage and his support of Keystone XL, but they have nowhere else to turn. They've seen Noem's incompetence, and they know we've got to get rid of her. The Marking Dems all vote Varilek.
  3. The Marking GOPers have seen their lack of confidence in Noem confirmed by her lack of performance. They realize that, in South Dakota, our sole Congressperson has to be a workhorse, not a showhorse. They still hate Obama, but they can still quietly vote for a Democrat, just as they have in numerous past elections when they have sent reasonable Democrats to work the system and bring home the bacon.
  4. Of much less importance, Marking drew a share of Indies who don't pay much attention to politics but vote on their gut feeling that a third-party would be a nice change. They'll flip a coin this fall and have no impact on the Varilek-Noem margin.

Marking's 19,134 voters from 2010 will play some role in this election. But the bigger impact will come from the proportion of 2010 Noem voters who just get bring themselves to pull the lever for Noem's record of non-performance.