Hat tip to Larry Kurtz, who notes another ugly irony in South Dakota politics. First Governor Dennis Daugaard asked the President his party wants to impeach to send disaster aid for South Dakota's June tornado and flood victims. The President, via FEMA, turned him down.

Still not ready to return to his self-reliant roots, Governor Daugaard is barking up another federal-handout tree. Encouraged by fellow Republican Senator John Thune, Governor Daugaard is asking the Small Business Administration to provide low-interst loans to help home- and business owners clean up their storm messes.

Matt Varilek, Region VII Administrator, Small Business Administration

Matt Varilek, Region VII Administrator, Small Business Administration

And who oversees SBA operations in South Dakota? Matt Varilek, that nice fellow from Yankton who ran for Congress a couple years ago but was portrayed by South Dakota Republicans as too smart and well-traveled to be a real South Dakotan. The SDGOP ran Varilek through exactly the wringer of character assassination that David Newquist says drives good public servants out of the state.

But those Republicans sure want Region VII Administrator Varilek and the Obama Small Business Administration to be forgiving and generous and spare Pierre the burden of providing for its own citizens in times of need.


Kevin Woster meets Democratic House candidate Corinna Robinson and comes away impressed. He still thinks Robinson will lose to money and image machine Rep. Kristi Noem, but contrary to the extremely selective hearing at Dakota War College, Woster says more pro Robinson than con.

When Woster says Robinson is likely to starve for campaign funds and lose the race by something under 20 percentage points, he's not condemning her qualities as a candidate; he's simply offering the same realistic pessimism that would face any Democrat seeking to win back South Dakota's House seat. South Dakota Democrats could run Jesus against Noem, and the commentariat would call him an underdog while the commentariat shouted "Nancy, Harry, Obama!"

Woster also misunderestimates Robinson. In 2012, Rep. Noem beat Democrat Matt Varilek by 15 percentage points. There is no attack that Woster foresees on Robinson that Noem didn't dish on Varilek. Team Kristi falsely assailed Matt with the whole "not a real South Dakotan" schtick; they'll do the same to Corinna, just as loudly. Varilek hurt himself with the base with his misstep on marriage equality; if Robinson can avoid that error (and you will avoid that error, right, Corinna), Robinson brings more Dems to support her and narrows the vote gap between herself and Noem.

I've been wrong about South Dakota's ability to recognize Kristi Noem's self-serving fecklessness before, but since beating Varilek, Noem has done nothing to earn more support from voters. She spent most of the last two years failing to deliver a farm bill. She helped shut down Mount Rushmore. Even on the main issue Pat Powers bubbles into a headline from Woster's critique, Robinson's stated desire to live in Washington, D.C., Robinson can make a strong case that she simply wants to do the job better than Noem has been doing it flying home all the time to Tweet pictures of herself at ball games.

Robinson is still an underdog, and as the loyal opposition, I wouldn't have it any other way. But she is no more of an underdog than Varilek in 2012 or any other South Dakota Democrat in the hunt today. Go, fight, win, Corinna! (And tell Tom Katus to forward me that campaign press release on your commitment to marriage equality....)


Snow days evidently drive me to lower my standards to those of the Republican spinsters with whom I share the South Dakota blogosphere. But at least they don't drive me to drink!

A few months ago, Pat Powers found it newsworthy to mention the fact that Democratic candidate for Congress Matt Varilek appeared on occasion to enjoy alcoholic refreshments. Powers suggested that individuals engaging in such bacchanalia "don’t post photos and brag about it on the Internet."

It appears that the executive director of Powers's own party doesn't pay attention to Powers's blog:

Tony Post likes gin: Twitter screen cap 2013.04.10. 10:35 MDT

screen cap 2013.04.10. 10:35 MDT

Tony Post, SDGOP exec, gin drinker. Cheers.


The latest Madville Times poll asked you, gentle readers, which South Dakotans would be the strongest Dem and GOP candidates for Senate in 2014. 215 of you weighed in on the Democratic choices; 206 of you checked a Republican. That's better than the under 200 who voted in the Dakota War College poll on possible Democratic Senate candidates, and much better than the zero who voted in the Dakota War College poll on the possible Republican candidates... oh, wait, that's because the SDGOP spin blog hasn't run such a poll yet on the potential SDGOP primary battle the SDGOP doesn't want to talk about.

But you don't need this poll to tell you that Madville Times is the stronger blog. You want to know which candidates are recognized as the strongest.

Among Dem choices, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin holds a commanding lead:

Madville Times online poll results: "Who would be the strongest Dem candidate for Senate in 2014?"

60% of you think SHS is the strongest candidate we Dems could field for the Senate race. On name recognition and likability, SHS at this point is probably the strongest candidate we could field for any race. U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, son of the retiring Senator Tim Johnson, comes in at 13%, just barely ahead of my suggestions of state Rep. Bernie Hunhoff at 10% and Johnson staffer Matt Varilek at 9%. "Someone else" drew only 6% interest, with one commenter submitting the name of attorney and former state legislator Margaret Gillespie.

Rep. Hunhoff tells WNAX he's not interested in running for U.S. Senate, but hey, we've got eleven months to work on changing his mind. If he does change his mind, Bernie can always note that WNAX ran that story on April 1.

Now what about the Republicans? You like former governor M. Michael Rounds, but not as much as you like Herseth Sandlin:

Madville Times online poll results: "Who would be the strongest GOP candidate for Senate in 2014?"

Rounds gets 41% of the vote here, again not a surprise given his likability the fact that he's the only announced candidate for Senate. The surprise in these numbers is second place. One in four of you think state Rep. Stace Nelson would be the strongest candidate the SDGOP could field to take Tim Johnson's seat. 25% for the Fulton Fulminator—that's almost double the support for aspiring Fox News personality and U.S. Congresswoman Kristi Noem. Our rodeo queen can't even beat "Someone else," who polled 15%. (One name not polled and suggested for that category: state Senator Larry Rhoden.) Former Rapid City legislator and radical right-wing option Bill Napoli draws only 4%.

As usual, the margin of error here is slightly larger than the big bend in Highway 81 near Kristi's house, so use these results at your own peril. But if these results say anything, they paint an interesting picture of the subset of South Dakota voters reading this blog. Despite my vocal criticism of Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for her Blue Doggery on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, credit card reform, cap and trade, and other issues, she remains popular with the Democratic base that one would assume is reading this blog. As for the Republican choices, this blog apparently has a fair contingent of Main Street moderates who recognize Pierre's pearly-white insurance salesman as the sensible pick for Senate... but right alongside them we have some fire-breathers and mischief makers who'd love to see Stace Nelson on the statewide stump. That's a fascinating mix!


Public Policy Polling offers some support to the Displaced Plainsman's thesis that the SDGOP propaganda machine is hyping a possible 2014 Democratic primary battle for Senator Tim Johnson's seat to keep our attention away from the real party-wrecker that could be coming: a GOP primary between declared GOP Senate candidate M. Michael Rounds and the ever-ambitious Congresswoman Kristi Noem.

Public Policy Polling talks to South Dakotans and finds Noem and Rounds neck-and-neck:

South Dakota might be next on the list of states where Republicans have a bruising Senate primary. Our first look at the state for 2014 finds Mike Rounds and Kristi Noem closely locked in a hypothetical contest, with Rounds leading just 43/39. Noem's favorability rating with GOP voters at 71/18 is slightly better than Rounds' 67/17 [Tom Jensen, "South Dakota Senate Poll," Public Policy Polling, 2013.03.21].

That's Jensen's lead paragraph, suggesting that's the most significant information to draw from this poll. Jensen notes the Dem numbers, finding Stephanie Herseth Sandlin would trounce Brendan Johnson in a primary and be competitive with either Noem or Rounds. Jensen concludes thus:

South Dakota provides a good opportunity for Republicans in 2014 but these numbers suggest that it won't be the end of the world for Democrats if Johnson ends up deciding to retire, given Herseth Sandlin's popularity, and the potential for a highly divisive GOP primary that could give Democrats an opportunity to replicate some of their other red state wins over the last few election cycles [Jensen, 2013.03.21].

David Montgomery goes crazy with the crosstabs, but here's the short form: SHS could beat Noem or Rounds, and that's before those GOP contenders land any punches on each other. Given their tight poll numbers, Noem and Rounds would have to fight hard to win. Noem went negative right out of the gate last year against the much less well-funded Varilek campaign; she'd fire even bigger guns against the Rounds money machine. Rounds would not be able to coast in nice-guy mode as he did in 2002; he'd have to fight back. Whoever would win that GOP primary would come out beat up, with some alienated GOP voters who would be comfortable voting for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin again.

And what is the Republican spin machine's headline? "Poll Says US Senate Seat Belongs to the GOP, and Brendan Can't Win," bleats Dakota War College:

Lots of things within the margin of error here, but any way you slice it, it looks good for the GOP, and extremely bleak for the Dems [Pat Powers, "Poll Says US Senate Seat Belongs to the GOP, and Brendan Can't Win," Dakota War College, 2013.03.21].

Wow—not just ignoring, but completely contradicting the pollster's own conclusion! It must be hard to construct one's own special reality every day. It must be even harder to trot that fantasy out to the public, hoping people will buy that fantasy and ignore the trouble your own party faces. I'm a little busy, so if you all don't mind, I'll just stick with the facts and data as presented.

By the way, Public Policy Polling doesn't throw Matt Varilek into the mix. I've made my argument to include Varilek and his Washington experience in our Senate calculus, but if the Public Policy Polling hypotheticals come true and Noem leaves her House seat to run for Senate, I rewrite my fantasy football card: SHS for Senate, Varilek for House, Bernie Hunhoff for Governor, and Brendan Johnson for Attorney General.


So I'm driving home yesterday from building boxes for the middle school play, fretting over whom we Dems should nominate from our seemingly thin bench for the various statewide offices up for grabs in 2014. Stephanie, Brendan. Brendan, Stephanie....

And then it hits me: Varilek for Senate!

Cory's 2014 bumper

Matt! You can save me some peeling on the Madville Times mobile unit!

Matt Varilek ran a respectable campaign against Kristi Noem in 2012. He has the freshest tested statewide campaign network of any Dem in South Dakota. I welcome counter-commentary, but I will contend that the only major error he committed was his alienation of key base donors with his comments against gay marriage. Other than that, Team Varilek campaigned well. Now they need to reassemble and campaign harder, just as Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and John Thune did in 2004 after their losses.

As for the job, Varilek can make a legitimate case to have more experience in the Senate than anyone thus far discussed as a possible pretender to that seat. He's logged seven years as Senator Tim Johnson's economic development director, a job that has put him in contact with leaders around the state talking practical policy to help them solve problems. Varilek has dealt with more Washington-level problems and knows the ins-and-outs of getting things done in the Senate better than the only declared candidate, Republican nepotizer and crony extraordinaire M. Michael Rounds, and anyone else who might emerge from the GOP to run for Johnson's seat.

Does Varilek want the job? That's an open question. He ran a tough campaign in 2012. He deserves some time to just do his job and hang with the ladies at home. Contrary to the artificial blogstorming hysteria over at Dakota War College, there's no rush for a contender to throw in for the 2014 race. As you may recall, John Thune didn't enter the 2004 race until January of that year.

But Dems, remember: experience matters. Varilek has Senate experience and campaign experience. If you want a winning 2014 ticket, you've got to keep Varilek in your calculations.


When people ask why I blog, one of the reasons I give is the challenge of writing on the public highwire. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to do it every day in front of a crowd, knowing that if you screw up, everyone will see you screw up, and they will hoot about it. That constant scrutiny encourages every online writer to get his or her facts and analysis right before hitting "Publish."

But I still mess up. I'm sure you, dear readers, can cite more examples. But here are four political stories where I made the wrong call in 2012:

1. Carmen Toft, Menace to Society? No: Good Samaritan. Back in May, the press and the right-wing blogosphere erupted with reports that Carmen Toft, Planned Parenthood advocate and Democratic candidate for District 10 House, had been cited for drunk driving and careless driving after hitting a seven-year-old girl on a bicycle. The screaming morons of the right leapt to horrible conclusions... and I, lacking any other evidence than what the press was shouting, bid Toft's candidacy good riddance.

But did you notice there was never any follow-up in the press? Did you notice Toft never faced trial or conviction? There was no trial because there was no collision. Toft didn't hit the kid. Toft stopped to help a kid who'd fallen. The police screwed up, the press screwed up, and I screwed up. I apologize now. The pro-life fanatics who used this false story to bolster their worldview and insult an innocent woman likely will not.

2. Our Next Congressman, Jeff Barth! Democratic candidate for U.S. House Jeff Barth proved that I still suffer a pathological affinity for the underdog and an irrepressible passion for surprise and drama in politics. His popular, funny, and brilliant online campaign video grabbed national attention in a way that his opponent Matt Varilek never did during the primary or the general election. Yet as anyone looking at endorsements and campaign finance and ground game should have seen coming—heck, even as I could see coming as I endorsed Barth—Varilek coasted to victory in the primary, beating Barth 72% to 28%.

3. Our Next Congressman, Matt Varilek! I'm still chapped here. Kristi Noem had no record to run on. She'd shirked her job. She ran scared, in constant attack mode with negative ads ranging from false to laughable. Matt Varilek had more education and experience and clear ability to do the job of Congressman.

But I made one fundamental mistake: I was thinking like a Democrat. I keep thinking a campaign is a job interview, and that we are picking the person who can do the job best. Unfortunately, the candidates were interviewing for two different jobs. Varilek was interviewing for the job of Representative and policymaker. Noem was interviewing for the job of glamourous horseback icon of South Dakota values, political obstructionist, and party fundraiser. And she got the job. Noem gained voters in every county over her 2010 totals; Varilek lost voters compared to Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's 2010 counts.

4. Dan Kaiser, No Chance of Winning? Aberdeen, I thought you were smarter than this. Police officer Dan Kaiser tells you he picks and chooses which laws to enforce. He tells you he supports Ron Paul and nullification. He tells you he'd close Northern State University. Yet you elect him to one of your District 3 House seats. Oh well, Wolves: start filing your transfer papers!


I had fun giving Bob Mercer heck for his purely speculative September hypothesis that the folks who voted for B. Thomas Marking in 2010 decided that election and could have decided this year's House race. I long maintained that there was no evidence that Marking had any influence on the 2010 outcome and that it thus made no sense to assume those folks would do anything other than split evenly this year between Kristi Noem and Matt Varilek.

But then I looked at a few simple numbers that indicated I was wrong—not as wrong as Bob Mercer, mind you, but wrong on the neutrality of the 2010 Marking vote. Consider:

  1. In 2010, B. Thomas Marking won 19,134 votes for Congress, 6.0% of the votes cast in that race.
  2. Marking's percentages in each county correlated weakly but significantly (r = 0.3596, p = 0.003) to Noem's 2010 county percentages. Where Noem was strong, Marking tended to have a little more strength than his average as well.
  3. Marking's percentages correlated a bit more strongly and negatively (r = –0.4583, p = 0.0001) to Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's. Where SHS was strong, Marking was noticeably weaker.
  4. This year, Matt Varilek's percentages in each county correlated negatively (r = –0.3899, p = 0.001) to Marking's 2010 numbers in each county.

In other words, these data suggest that, if the Marking 6% were anything other than statistical error in 2010, they were stronger in places where Noem was already stronger than SHS in 2010. An exact percentage is beyond this morning's math, but these numbers lead me to believe that Marking voters did not siphon equal numbers of voters from the party candidates in 2010. Marking more likely dragged down Noem more than SHS. Had he not run, his voters would have leaned significantly toward Noem.

And this year, that tendency held. Noem beat Varilek by 53,851 votes, 14.9% of the electorate. But I'm willing to be that a strong majority of Marking's 6% added to Noem's cushion.


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