Last updated on 2012.05.28
Let me see if I have this all straight. Kevin Woster and David Montgomery report that Governor Dennis Daugaard has intervened in five Republican primaries with endorsements for his favored Republicans:
- Sen. Deb Peters over Rep. Lora Hubbel for District 9 Senate
- Sen. Tom Nelson over County Commissioner Bob Ewing for District 31 Senate
- Sen. Bruce Rampelberg over George Ferebee for District 30 Senate
- Mike Buckingham over Rep. Phil Jensen for District 33 Senate
- Rep. Val Rausch over Sen. Tim Begalka for District 4 Senate
Mr. Montgomery also reports that Governor Daugaard turns out to be behind the anonymous telephone polling that raised the suspicions of many ultra-conservatives that the Governor was getting ready to pick favorites. For once, my paranoid conservative friends were right.
So what has motivated the Governor to involve himself in the Republican primaries so conspicuously, so extensively, and so unusually?
My running hypothesis was that Governor Daugaard was paying back water-carriers for HB 1234, his education reform stink-bomb. Peters, Nelson, Rampelberg, and Rausch all voted for HB 1234. Hubbel and Begalka both voted against HB 1234, making the District 4 and 9 endorsements all the sweeter for Daugaard.
But look at District 33. I don't know where Buckingham stands on HB 1234, but he wasn't in office to vote on it this winter. Rep. Phil Jensen was, and he voted for HB 1234 twice. So settling scores on HB 1234 isn't the biggest thing on the Governor's mind as he intervenes in GOP primaries.
So what else might these races have in common to motivate DD's meddling? Let's consider the Gordon Howie factor.
Gordon Howie, self-imagined messiah of Christian conservatives, has claimed credit for all of the Republican Legislative primaries this year. Let's see how Howie ranks Governor Daugaard's endorsees and their opponents in Howie's latest bogus scorecard:
- District 9: Peters 17%, Hubbel 86%
- District 31: not rated in Howie's May scorecard, but in his similarly methodologically challenged December legislator scorecard, Howie rated Tom Nelson 17%, the lowest score in the Senate, for conservative fealty.
- District: 30: Rampelberg 33%, Ferebee 100%
- District 33: Buckingham 0%, Jensen 86% (see also this Howie blog post with a subsequent comment in which Howie says Jensen will fight for conservative principles while Buckingham will be a tool of the GOP establishment)
- District 4: Rausch 13%, Begalka 88%
Governor Daugaard has endorsed five candidates whom Howie has branded as enemies of Christian conservatism.
Perhaps Governor Daugaard is responding to Howie's ongoing needling. Daugaard hammered Howie and three other challengers in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary, but unlike the other losers, Howie never left campaign mode. Howie's been making noise since 2011 about running again against Daugaard's "lack of leadership." Last week he sent out another gubernatorial ping to his wingnut supporters, continuing their long and futile attempt to misportray Daugaard's minimal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act compliance as federal tyranny and cause for secession.
Supporting the notion that these endorsements could be more about Dennis in 2014 than about any specific candidate or issue in 2012 is the nature of the Governor's polling. If the Governor's endorsements were about HB 1234, his polling would have asked about support for that bill. (I don't think the Governor wants to know that number.) The poll asked about approval of Governor Daugaard. With his polling, Governor Daugaard can test the overlap of support for Howie insurgents in this year's Legislative races and potential support for Howie himself to insurge in 2014.
There is a slightly more generous interpretation of the "Do you like me?" nature of the poll. While the data certainly offer some insight on where and how to campaign in 2014, the Governor's polling may have had the primary intent of informing the Governor's intervention strategy. He has issued endorsements in just five of the 27 GOP Legislative primaries this season. That minority of races could be intersection of "Don't like the Gov's preferred candidate" and "Do like the Gov." Perhaps recognizing the unusual nature of a sitting governor interfering in his party's Legislative primaries, Governor Daugaard may have decided to concentrate his resources on races where his endorsement might make a difference... though when I look at District 31, where Bob Ewing doesn't seem to stand a chance against Tom Nelson, my thesis gets shaky again.
Is all this effort necessary, Dennis? As I've noted before and as you know full well from the 2010 primary, Gordon Howie is "not a force to be reckoned with. He is a clown to be mocked." It's my job as a blogger to handle that mockery; it's your job as Governor to handle governing. Gordon Howie can't mount a viable statewide campaign, let alone coordinate a multi-headed hydra of sane candidates to topple the GOP leadership in the Legislature (Exhibits A and B: Florence and Sibby). Why invest any political capital in primary endorsements that might only harden the cranky conservative opposition to yourself and your favorites?
Maybe Governor Daugaard's polling contains some surprises. Maybe the five races in which he's meddling are closer than we think... but come on: there is no universe in which Lora Hubbel is so close to beating Deb Peters that Dennis Daugaard has to come save Deb's skin.
The Governor's endorsements leave me scratching my head... not because his favored candidates are meatheads (at least not from a mainstream GOP perspective), but because Gordon Howie and the meatheads he's backing don't seem to warrant the effort.