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Daugaard Hubris Leads to Counterproductive Senate Endorsements

Last updated on 2014.01.29

Bad news for my enemies is good news for my friends? (Expect someone to critique my use of "enemies".)

Governor Dennis Daugaard's interference in the Republican primaries was a net waste of gubernatorial political capital. The Governor picked favorites in five GOP State Senate primaries across the state. The results:

  1. District 4: endorsee Rep. Val Rausch loses to Sen. Tim Begalka 33%–67%.
  2. District 9: endorsee Sen. Deb Peters beats Rep. Lora Hubbel 53%–47%.
  3. District 30: endorsee Sen. Bruce Rampelberg beats George Ferebee 58%–42%.
  4. District 31: endorsee Sen. Tom Nelson loses to Bob Ewing 38%–62%.
  5. District 33: endorsee Mike Buckingham loses to Rep. Phil Jensen 42%–58%.

The District 9 race should not have been that close. In no sane universe does a candidate who sees the devil at work in drivers licenses, vaccines, and (so I've heard secondhand from last week's press conference) the Governor's infant mortality task force need only 43 more votes to beat the competent Senator Peters. Yet after Dennis Daugaard steps into the race, Lora Hubbel comes one good picnic away from being the Republican nominee.

Daugaard's endorsements lose him Speaker of the House Rausch against Sen. Begalka, one of the six legislators who attacked Rausch's leadership last winter. Sen. Begalka is no gracious winner:

"I think it is time for Val to pack up his bags and go home because he has outlived his value in Pierre. The power went to his head," Begalka said [Chet Brokaw, "3 Candidates Endorsed by Daugaard Lose Senate Bids," AP, 2012.06.05].

..and he spikes the ball in front of the Governor:

Begalka said voters resented the governor's interference in the legislative primary.

"His meddling in the race, I think it kind of backfired," Begalka said [Brokaw, 2012.06.05].

Out in District 31, Lawrence County, the Governor lacked the clout to save Senator Tom Nelson, one of the best spoken Senators I've listened, against Bob Ewing, a guy who won while professing utter ignorance of most statewide affairs or just skipping public forums. Apparently folks in Lawrence like Ewing and cigarettes (I hear Nelson's smoking ban support lost him big votes in casino country) more than either Nelson or Daugaard.

Before we overgeneralize the lesson of the endorsements from Governor Daugaard (and persistently partisan Secretary of State Jason Gant, who damaged the integrity of his office just to back a loser in Rausch against Begalka), let's note that Matt Varilek received endorsements from three grand-pooba Democrats, including sitting Senator Tim Johnson, in his U.S. House primary against Jeff Barth, and he cruised to victory by a higher margin than anyone Daugaard endorsed.

Endorsements from high-party honchos in South Dakota primaries don't mean death. But they do pose the sizable risk of wasting political capital and irking party members whose votes you'll need in the next session and the next election.

I can't see into the Governor's head, but his failed endorsements suggest that his arrogant belief that he can get whatever he wants from the Legislature (review the arm-twisting and high-fiving on House Bill 1234) led him to hubristically assume he could get whomever he wants into the Legislature.

And for his efforts, Governor Daugaard now has Senator-elect Phil Jensen and Senator Tim Begalka (if he can beat Steve Street in November) walking into the 2013 session with perfect justification to thumb their nose at the Governor who tried to beat them on their home turf. Oops.

Update 08:50 CDT: Senator Nelson tells RCJ's Aaron Orlowski that the fact that his friend Dennis Daugaard endorsed him means more to him than the election. So I assume that since his pre-primary campaign finance filing reports he spent over $11,000 on billboards and such, he'll spend even more to buy his friend Dennis a nice present for all that even-more-meaningful friendship.


  1. Chris E. 2012.06.06

    I'm a pretty awkward person, and even I can't imagine the awkwardness the Governor must be feeling right about now.

  2. larry kurtz 2012.06.06

    My takeaway? Never underestimate the power of the blue-hair voting bloc.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.06

    Surely worse than my awkwardness, Chris E. My endorsee Barth got swamped, but I don't think I alienated large chunks of my party faithful and damaged my ability to move Legislation in 2013 (did I? We're all still friends, right? ;-) ).

  4. Bill Fleming 2012.06.06

    Let's face it Cory, we're the "wing-nuts" of the left. LOL. (I'll defend my support of Barth under the heading of "poetic license.")

  5. Troy 2012.06.06


    Here is my view:

    Whether it be Governor Daugaard or Tim Johnson, Gordon Howie or Kelsey (@ DakotaWomen. forgot last name. Sorry), Bob Ellis or you:

    Making endorsements is a form of making your views known to others who might listen to you. Regardless of status (Governor or private citizen, blogger or whatever), they are over-estimated with regard to electoral effect. Politics is local and choices are personal. They only have two real meaningful effects.

    1) If delivered at the right time, they can be momentum shifters or potentially address a particular challenge in the current storyline.

    2) They can help with fundraising.

    But, when voters go to the voting booth, I'm not sure they have much impact, only maybe on the margin in a very close race.

  6. Mark 2012.06.06

    Endorsements? When, to whom, and how they're given can be factors, regardless if they're given by an individual or an organization. And then, there's the unintended effects, too. On balance the only endorsement that's reliable is the anonymous, personal one given when an individual takes the time to vote.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.06

    Troy, if you are correct, then why would the Governor have risked losing political capital on an action with such little return on investment? There's no sign his endorsements shifted momentum; it's possible his endorsements shifted momentum in the direction of opponents Hubbel and Begalka. We'll know from the post-primary campaign finance reports whether they produced any fundraising boost. But the only apparent effect is that they made the Governor look weaker than he did before the primary. Am I missing any benefits for Daugaard on this gamble?

  8. Troy 2012.06.06


    Let me ask you a rhetorical question: If you thought your endorsement of Barth might not make any difference, would you have kept your mouth shut?

    I guess sometimes we shouldn't over-analyze everything. Take it at face value. The candidates probably asked for the endorsement and the Governor chose to give it.

  9. larry kurtz 2012.06.06

    Can Nelson still run as an indy in the general?

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.06

    That's a very good question, Troy. Pretty much everything I write here, including my declaration that I would vote for Barth, I write because I think it may make a difference for someone, somewhere. When I write, I make at least a casual cost-benefit analysis. I try not to say things that will get me sued. I try not to say things that will lose me my job. I try not to say things that will damage my integrity or reputation.

    But I have much less to lose than a sitting Governor. I am not responsible for, among other things, holding the highest office in the state for my party or for moving legislation each session. You don't get to be Governor without playing chess, without analyzing your every public action at least a little more than your friendly neighborhood blogger. I can endorse a primary candidate and call you dirty names with much more freedom and less calculus than can Governor Daugaard.

    A blogger's endorsement is small potatoes. A Governor's endorsement is serious political capital, to be invested wisely.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.06

    No, Larry: folks had to file Indy by 5 p.m. of primary day. To make things even harder for Indies, the Legislature passed HB 1182 to move the Indy file date 5–6 weeks up, to the last Tuesday of April.

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