I like dramatic elections. Alas, The Displaced Plainsman anticipates no drama in Tuesday's GOP Senate primary. Neither does Bob Mercer, who has upped his estimate of frontrunner Marion Michael Rounds's vote count from 50% to 60%, based on May campaigning:

Rounds’ campaign stepped up its efforts tremendously with its blitz of signs, its well-done newspaper stuffers and the candidate’s busy schedule of appearances at grassroots events.

Meanwhile the other four didn’t seem to pick up steam. They resorted to holding and/or attending news conference-style events trying to draw wider attention [Bob Mercer, "Will Mike Rounds Break 60 Percent?" Pure Pierre Politics, 2014.05.31].

I hate to play into a sense of inevitability, but the Rounds money machine appears to be coasting to victory. Rounds has avoided debates and eased up on the fundraising gas while managing not to get mired in any of the very valid critiques his opponents could be making about his record of corruption, laziness, and failure as governor.

But hey, in case any of you Republicans are still thinking about changing your vote, let me re-don my Republican hat and offer the best reasons I can think of for Republicans to vote for each of the four legitimate U.S. Senate candidates on their ballot Tuesday:

Mike Rounds:

  1. No one will bring more money, polish, and name recognition to the campaign.
  2. Rounds has no policy vision, but Republicans don't want policy vision. Republicans hire a candidate to occupy the seat and keep Democrats out. Rounds will go to Washington, cast his desultory votes, and get right back to fundraising for the next election.
  3. While the end of earmarks has made it harder for Senators to send home pork, Rounds has demonstrated the least philosophical compunction against big federal government spending to benefit South Dakota. His lack of commitment to the Republican slogans he campaigns on, buttered with his insurance-salesman charm, give South Dakota the best shot at drawing funds for the Lewis and Clark water pipeline and other porky projects.

Stace Nelson:

  1. Nelson means what he says and says what he means more than anyone else on the GOP ballot.
  2. If you're a Tea Party Republican, Nelson is absolutely your only choice. No other GOP candidate has espoused the principles of hard right conservative Republicanism, appeared at more South Dakota Tea Party events, and more openly embraced the language of the Tea Party movement.
  3. If anyone has a chance of bucking crony capitalism in Washington, it's Nelson.
  4. Speaking of crony capitalism, if the EB-5 investigations break open before November 4, Republicans will need cover. Nelson has spoken most forthrightly against EB-5. Nelson sponsored legislation to get South Dakota out of EB-5.
  5. Joining Nelson with John Thune would give South Dakota the tallest Senate duo in the country.
  6. Nelson's size and style would get South Dakota more national press than even Kristi Noem.

Larry Rhoden:

  1. Of the challengers, Rhoden is the most experienced legislator, with a greater record of crafting, negotiating, and passing bills.
  2. Joining Rhoden with Thune would give South Dakota the handsomest Senate duo in the country.
  3. On pure image, Rhoden best affirms South Dakota's agricultural mythos, in which we all deep down crave to be from West River.

Jason Ravnsborg:

  1. On the campaign trail, Ravnsborg has done a good job of peppering his responses with specific policies, showing a focus on reversing the impression that the GOP is the "Party of No" and thus offering more appeal to voters interested in solving problems rather than playing partisan politics.
  2. Ravnsborg will draw the least attention, the least excitement, and the least financial support of the four candidates you have to choose from. If you're playing SDGOP chess and don't like Mike Rounds, this isn't a bad thing. You use Ravnsborg to send Rounds home. You elevate him to Senator, let him muddle about for six years doing no harm, and keep him out of the way of the 2018 round of musical chairs, when you'll have a whole bench of characters wrestling for governor, attorney general, and other posts that you wouldn't want Ravnsborg messing with. And then in 2020, you can promote a GOP all-star to that Senate seat by primarying Ravnsborg out. (Yes, I had to stretch for that one, because even with my Republican hat on, I have a hard time thinking of why any Republican gets excited about Ravnsborg.)

Ugh. I feel dirty.

I know my probing of the Republican mindset won't have much impact on Tuesday's primary. But Republicans, don't say I didn't try to help.

Bonus Prediction: Trying very hard to weed out wishful thinking, I check my gut, glance at the 2010 GOP primary results, and divine the following outcome:

  1. Rounds: 55% (better than Daugaard 2010, but not much better)
  2. Nelson: 25% (wins all of Howie's voters, plus boost from only effective challenger's ground game)
  3. Rhoden: 10% (barely carries Meade County)
  4. Ravnsborg: 6% (more margin of error and "don't like the other guys" than active support)
  5. other/spoilage: 4%

As reported here first over the weekend, Tea Party organizer Ken Crow said he was leaving the Jason Ravnsborg campaign and endorsing Stace Nelson for South Dakota's GOP Senate nomination.

Ravnsborg appears to have responded via Twitter that he actually fired Crow last week. (Whether Ravnsborg himself tweeted that tidbit is in question, as someone besides Jason appears to have posting access.)

Crow rejects that claim in a comment here this morning and in a new press release. Crow says he has e-mails that show Ravnsborg welcomed Crow's further participation in the campaign. Crow says he left because he saw a candidate who does not want to win.

And why doesn't Ravnsborg want to win? Based six weeks on the trail with the candidate, Crow concludes that Ravnsborg is running to do a favor for his friends Dan Lederman and Joel Arends:

...After several conversations late at night while driving back from Lincoln Day Dinners, he had mentioned this fellow named Lederman at several different times. It had never registered with me for I was not familiar with the inner workings of South Dakota politics.

Of course now I am being told that it was Lederman who had convinced Jason Ravnsborg to run in the first place. In retrospect, Ravnsborg had mentioned to me on several occasions that he had been talked into running by several State Legislators and Lederman’s name was in the same breath when this was said to me. To be candid I cannot recall if he explicitly stated that Lederman was the only one, but I can state categorically that Lederman was mentioned several times in these conversations along with a fellow by the name of Joel Arends and several other state officials. Again; it did not mean much to me at the time because I did not understand the gravity of what he was saying. But the fact is that he did admit that it was his old college friends that are now in the Legislature that had convinced him to run. Of course I have subsequently learned that Arends is the Attorney for Annette Bosworth [Ken Crow, press release, 2014.05.27].

Crow's mention of Joel Arends deserves attention. Arends has been Bosworth's attorney since at 2012. He's been helping her with her Senate campaign. She started campaigning in June 2013. After taking a pounding on this blog, she began to face mainstream media scrutiny in November 2013, when KDLT picked up the story about her raffle scam and forced her to spout nonsense on the evening news. Ravnsborg entered the race in mid-December 2013.

The possible Arends connection to Ravnsborg becomes all the more discussion-worthy when Crow tells us what Ravnsborg proposed doing with the Rounds-EB-5 ad that Ravnsborg felt was too strong for him to run:

Jason had sent me an email on Monday after this altercation and I am in possession of these emails. I was offered 3 different options in which one involved selling the advertisement (Mike Rounds EB-5 video) to the Dr. Annette Bosworth campaign [Crow, 2014.05.27].

Logic spins:

  1. If the ad is really bad, you don't let it see the light of day.
  2. If the ad is a lemon, only a used-car salesman would think of selling it to someone else
  3. If the ad hits a mark that you don't want to hit, you hand it to a poor marksman who can make everyone else think, "Don't use that gun; only crazy people pick up that gun."

The immediate story here is that Jason Ravnsborg's campaign staff has issued a vote of no confidence in their candidate. Ken Crow, the campaigner who spent six weeks at Ravnsborg's side, says that Ravnsborg doesn't want to win. Crow says that Stace Nelson is the serious conservative alternative to Mike Rounds.

The bigger story we need to get at is why Jason Ravnsborg doesn't want to win, and why (and when, and how much) Dan Lederman and Joel Arends encouraged Ravnsborg to nominally wage a losing battle.Ravnsborg


Republican Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg has lost a key member of his campaign team. Tea Party organizer Ken Crow announced Sunday that he has left the Ravnsborg campaign and is endorsing GOP challenger Rep. Stace Nelson.

This defection and endorsement appear to revoke the support that Crow's Tea Party Tribune declared for Ravnsborg in March. While Crow was initially impressed with Ravnsborg's answers to an e-mail questionnaire, Crow's six weeks of traveling around South Dakota with Ravnsborg left Crow with an impression of a weak candidate running to run and not to win. Crow cannot figure out why a Ravnsborg interested in winning would not take the very logical step of running a hard-hitting ad on EB-5 against GOP frontrunner Mike Rounds. Crow was also unsettled by Ravnsborg's regular mentions of Dan Lederman and other supporters of GOP frontrunner Mike Rounds. Crow thus gets the impression that Ravnsborg is more interested in hitching his star to those already ascendant in the GOP than ascending by his own merits and promotion of Tea Party conservatism.

Crow says the "minor" issues that originally kept him from endorsing Nelson are far outweighed by Ravnsborg's failure as a candidate:

...Mr. Ravnsborg either isn’t hungry enough for victory or there are hidden agendas that I am unaware of. But his refusal to try and win this campaign is enough reason for me personally to withdraw my support of Jason Ravnsborg for U. S. Senate. Being a national Tea Party figure as I am, I am compelled to only support people that I know are conservative by nature, have a moral compass and are willing to fight for the Constitution.

In light of the afflictions currently facing America, we as a nation are in desperate need of strong and bold leadership to guide our nation at this time in our history. While Stace Nelson might still be a little tougher than we are used to viewing our Senators as, he is exactly what we need in Washington, D. C. We need an outspoken advocate for the citizens of this great nation and the great state of South Dakota. We need someone that is unafraid to stand firm just as he did in Pierre.

I have subsequently learned that Nelson was given several bad raps simply because he dared to stand in the face of “career politicians and the status quo” and of course they did not like that very much. To me, that is true leadership and representation [Ken Crow, press release, 2014.05.25].

When Crow's Tea Party folks lined up behind Ravnsborg, pro-Rounds blog Dakota War College eagerly printed both press releases, without commentary or criticism. Now that experience and face-to-face contact with the candidates have made Crow realize Stace Nelson is the truest Tea Party conservative in South Dakota's Senate race, it will be interesting to see if DWC treats this news with similar gentleness or if DWC will now brand Crow an out-of-state interloper who has no business endorsing candidates in a South Dakota race.


Some Internet toodling brings me to this video hammering Mike Rounds for his involvement in the EB-5 scandal:

Here's my transcript of the voiceover:

Mike Rounds, career politician, the kind of politician that Washington, D.C., is already full of. Mike Rounds made a mess here in South Dakota, wasting millions of your tax dollars on a government giveaway to his foreign cronies. Is that the "common sense" Mike Rounds would bring to Washington, D.C.?

At that point, this video could be a Rick Weiland ad. Heck, Rick could even leave in the Harry Reid bobblehead, if Harry Reid continues to be a poopyhead about South Dakota's best hope for helping Dems keep their Senate majority.

Not conservative. South Dakota needs a real conservative in Washington—

O.K., so it could be a Gordon Howie ad in the general...

—like Jason Ravnsborg, not more of the same with Mike Rounds.

...or a Jason Ravnsborg ad right now.

Now first, let's quibble:

  1. The headline montage centers on what looks like a news paper clipping leading with "Rounds' EB-5 Disaster" dated Monday, April 21, 2014. To the best of my knowledge, no such newspaper article was published on April 21, 2014. There is no South Dakota newspaper I know of whose masthead beings with South Dakota (nope, not even the SDSU Collegian). The text visible in the article at 0:07 comes directly from the latter portion of Greg Belfrage's KELO-AM Daily Dose blog post of April 21.
  2. I'm not convinced that Rounds's EB-5 program was a "government giveaway to his foreign cronies." The foreigners involved didn't get a giveaway; they had to pay $500,000 for their green cards, plus another $45K or so in fees to Rounds's domestic cronies processing the EB-5 apps through the secretive SDRC Inc. (unless the videomakers are counting Joop Bollen as a foreigner, or unless they have some new info about whoever profited from NBP's crazy offshore financing deals).
  3. The $80,000,000 flashed on the screen as the price tag of EB-5 is wrong. Dirk Lammers found that the state lost $4.3 million in taxpayer dollars on the EB-5-backed Northern Beef Packers fiasco. Joe O'Sullivan finds that NBP burned up $95 million in EB-5 capital and $167 million overall. We've covered this on my blog, and the presence of my July 19, 2013, headline in the video montage shows that the videomakers pay attention to this blog. Keep those numbers straight, fellas!

But beyond the facts of the text, consider that this campaign ad does not appear on Jason Ravnsborg's website, at least not as of this moment. Ravnsborg still displays his potshot at Stace Nelson's military service. He's mentioned Rounds's EB-5 scandal before, but so far, he hasn't stamped his name across this video and run it on his own channels. The video was uploaded to the YouTube account of Lee Stranahan on May 4, two and a half weeks ago, four days before Ravnsborg uploaded his "relevant military experience" ad and three other clips (travel, IRS, and funny name). Does Ravnsborg not know the EB-5 video exists? Or is Ravnsborg choosing not to upset the frontrunner... when, as The Displaced Plainsman makes clear, upsetting the frontrunner is all that any serious primary contender should be doing?

And if Ravnsborg won't run it, will Stranahan mind if Weiland, Howie, or Nelson borrows it and puts it to work to beat Rounds?


So maybe this explains the Rhoden surge in the Madville Times primary poll?

Rep. Stace Nelson loses focus in the final push for a primary upset. While his sole target should be frontrunner Mike Rounds, he slips into taking potshots at fellow military man and electoral non-threat Jason Ravnsborg:

...He also went after Jason Ravnsborg, specifically over their tiff on relevant military service, calling him ‘ignorant,’ and oddly belittling him as just “a truck driver in Iraq,” because “they have a TV show about NCIS, I don’t think they have got a TV Show about being a reservist as a truck driver in Iraq or Afghanistan yet” [Pat Powers, "When Nelson... Torched the Republican Party...," Dakota War College, 2014.05.20].

We've had this conversation. Taking cheap shots at any soldier's service profits no one. Whether you're investigating crimes, driving trucks, slinging hash, or leading prayers, your willingness to do so under the orders of the military is respectable service and sacrifice. Like any other work, it may or may not make you a better U.S. Senator, but splitting hairs over the relative merits of such sacrifice and service is, at the very least, a waste of time.

It also torques PNR off:

Nelson is not only dead wrong on the specifics, his statements in this regard are an affront to the proud traditions of discipline, teamwork, and devotion that mark the United States Marine Corps. He should be ashamed of himself. If he were capable of shame and remorse, he would withdraw such statements and apologize for them, not least to the widows and mothers of those truckers who died to bring supplies to my Marines and never gave a damn about showing up in stupid television shows. This pissing contest has gone on long enough ["Stace Nelson Should Be Ashamed," P&R Miscellany, 2014.05.21].

Ravnsborg hurt himself by making his snarky attack on Nelson's service. Nelson makes the same error by letting himself be drawn into a conversation more suited to two soldiers who've had one too many at the bar than two candidates who ought to be talking about nothing other than how awesome they personally are and how East-Coast-rotten Mike Rounds is. Nelson and Ravnsborg could end up playing Kirby and Barnett, allowing cowboy-clean Larry Rhoden to round up the sane and attentive anti-Rounds vote.

The only good to come out of Nelson's error is the opportunity for The Displaced Plainsman to make the first B.J. and the Bear reference of the 2014 primary... and perhaps of any South Dakota primary ever. Now that's a worthwhile distraction!


Jason Ravnsborg's latest campaign video claims that he is the "ONLY U.S. Senate candidate with relevant military experience." Ravnsborg drove supplies around combat zones and now does intel as an Army Reservist. Fellow Republican candidate Rep. Stace Nelson chased and prosecuted criminals and taught fellow soldiers how to shoot. Independent Larry Pressler served two tours of combat duty in Vietnam.

Each soldier had very different experiences in very different places and different decades. Ravnsborg's claim can only mean that recent work in logistics in Iraq and Afghanistan and intel in Minneapolis can inform a United States Senator's policymaking decisions but that law enforcement in Japan in 1990s and combat in Vietnam in the 1960s cannot.

The simplest reading of Ravnsborg's ad is that he's just being a jerk, either lying about or insulting fellow veterans as a desperate attempt to win votes. But let's be generous. Let's assume that Ravnsborg was actually mustering the brainpower to pose useful civic questions: Does military service better qualify a citizen to serve in elected office? If so, does some military service make one a better candidate than other military service?

Veteran and conservative blogger P&R Miscellany says no to the former question. He says he has more "chest candy" from his combat service than either Jason Ravnsborg or Stace Nelson:

So, on the basis of military service as described by both Ravnsborg and Nelson, I have perhaps better qualifications to be senator than either.

The patent absurdity of that statement should tell you all you need to know about using one's military service as a basis for choosing among candidates ["Military Service Does Not Qualify One for Elective Office," P&R Miscellany, 2014.05.09].

Military service does not certify than any veteran is smarter, braver, or more patriotic than any other citizen. Soldiers do important, difficult work for their country, but so do firefighters, police, doctors, teachers, ranchers, construction workers, database programmers, and moms. In any profession, the military included, we can find a share of dweebs, hotheads, scammers, simpletons, and sociopaths who shouldn't be trusted with taxpayer dollars. And in any profession, we can find a share of honest neighbors who can listen to their fellow citizens, explain policy clearly, and make good decisions.

Soldier versus civilian, supply truck driver versus MP versus combat infantry—do those distinctions tell voters anything useful at the ballot box?


Jason Ravnsborg offers a new campaign ad that misfires on every cylinder possible:

The first half of the ad plays the gloomy, minor-key music of doom usually reserved to play over grainy black-and-white images of one's opponents. The martial Marvel Studios superhero-fight drums kick in halfway through, but the ad still ends on the grim strains.

The voiceover is a standard anonymous movie-trailer baritone, not a South Dakotan we know (at least he doesn't sound French), and not the candidate himself. It's a positive ad talking all about Ravnsborg's quals, but the voice sounds more like what we hear when a candidate wants to badmouth other candidates but not have it in his own voice.

The voiceover opens intoning that "you've probably been hearing about Jason Ravnsborg." This is a specious marketing ploy, creating the false impression that there's all sorts of buzz about the last-place candidate. It says to the 90% of viewers who respond to the name with puzzlement, "What? You haven't heard of Jason Ravnsborg? All the cool kids have; what's your problem?"

The voiceover calls Ravnsborg "the fresh face." "The" is inaccurate; Annette Bosworth and Clayton Walker are at least as politically fresh-faced as Ravnsborg. "Fresh face" is Bosworthian code for "I have no experience, so I need some adjectives to make that sound like a good thing."

The voiceover repeats text on the screen, which is a sure sign of PowerPoint-itis, the disorder that leads millions of Americans to think that the proper use of visual aids is to treat your video like a giant notecard with the text of your speech. It also signals that the candidate can't afford to hire an ad team to shoot quality video of real South Dakotans, so instead you just make a PowerPoint with still photos and random digital transitions.

The voiceover says Ravnsborg is "uniquely qualified." "Uniquely" seems a gross overstretch when comparing oneself to people who have campaigned and fundraised before, who have served as legislators and governor, and who have been involved in local and state politics prior to this Senate campaign.

The ad shouts that Ravnsborg is the "ONLY attorney running for the U.S. Senate seat" (all caps in original). Ravnsborg emphasizes a professional credential that makes four out of five voters cringe. Oops.

The biggest cheese grater in Ravnsborg ad is this insulting lie:

Jason Ravnsborg is the ONLY U.S. Senate candidate with relevant military experience.

Now let's be clear: I'm not terribly fond of all the military chest-thumping that inserts itself into our politics. Saying, "I'm a soldier and you're not" does not automatically lead to the conclusion that "I'm a better candidate/patriot/human being than you." Good patriots serve their country in many ways without ever touching a uniform or a gun. Elevating soldiers to a special class instills a martial spirit that can be unhealthy for a peaceful nation. Dulce et decorum est....

But if a candidate is going to claim military service as a résumé booster, then he has to allow every candidate with that experience to stake that claim. Ravnsborg is an Army Reservist with experience in transportation and intelligence. Ravnsborg's opponent Rep. Stace Nelson served in the Marines as a military policeman and criminal investigator. Ravnsborg has a Bronze Star. Nelson has busted-up legs and back from getting run over by a criminal he was trying to apprehend. Both are soldiers. Both get to play the military card.

We can argue about whether either man's military experiences would make him a better Senator. But if Jason is going to put up pictures of his medal and his uniform and say, "I'm a soldier, yaaay!" he doesn't get to say, "My opponent's a solider, boooo!" or, worse, as this ad does, "That Marine over there wasn't really a soldier." That tactic is inconsistency at best, and an insulting lie at the worst.

Ravnsborg's ad fails on many levels. It is cheap and unsuccessful marketing based on sleight-of-mouth rebranding of a thin résumé and a mendacious insult to a fellow veteran.


Rick! Rick! Rick!!! I told you that you need to get Amy Poehler to come do a fundraiser for your Senate campaign. But do you listen? Do you listen? No!

Now GOP Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg goes and steals your SNL thunder by getting... not Amy Poehler, but SNL alum Victoria Jackson for his May 13 fundraiser in Sioux Falls:


Oh, the buzz! The gravitas! The opportunities for Ravnsborg to break out with topical musical entertainment!

Ravnsborg has apparently convinced Jackson that America didn't really die when Obama won in 2012. He is probably hoping she will refrain from singing and just focus on telling Jason's Sioux Falls crowd how homosexuals, Communists, and Muslims are working together to destroy America by building bike paths. Perhaps she will also explain her status as a registered Independent and why she is "very disappointed with the Republican Party."

If Jackson's act doesn't sink Ravnsborg's candidacy, perhaps rolling up to the Jackson event with Minnesota license plates will:

One of my sources tells me this photo shows the Chevy Suburban in which Ravnsborg and his campaigners have been touring South Dakota. It has Minnesota plates:
And on the door, there appears to be a Jason Ravnsborg for Senate logo:

Alas, my correspondents need better phones... or the wherewithal to walk five steps closer and take a clearer picture of the door decal. But we can see an R at the lower left, a straight line above and offset right from that R, then the beginnings of three red stripes on a slant...


...which appears to fit the standard Ravnsborg logo.

...ah! And just as I'm complaining, my correspondent comes through:
Read my mind. Well done, team!

So tonight's riveting question: who are Ravnsborg's Minnesota stringers? Doesn't he know that those high-wage-passing, income-tax-paying, gay-marriage-loving hippies want to turn absorb our state into a Wabasha-Bloc puppet state to buffer their People's Republic from Wyoming?

Ha! I knew Ravnsborg was a front for some devious liberal force in the Republican Party!

p.s.: Rick, are you dialing Amy Poehler's number? Are you? Rick! Call Amy! Political subtext! Rick! Rick! Rick!


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