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GOP Beats Dems in SD Primary Turnout: November Doom?

The South Dakota primary produced dozens of interesting numbers. Let's zero in on three telling numbers:

Now let's start with a caveat: the Secretary of State's numbers are a bit wonky here. He calculates the voter turnout for Democrats and Independents by dividing the total votes by what appears to be just the number of registered Democrats (182,698) rather than the sum of Dems and Indies (around 273,000). If we use D+I, voter turnout in the quasi-open (no GOP allowed) Dem primary yesterday was only 11.88%.

Ideological opponents Bill Fleming and Troy Jones offered these comments here last night:

Look at the GOP. And their race was a foregone conclusion, and they're STILL outvoting us. For cryin' out loud, people. Come on [Bill Fleming, comment, Madville Times, 2012.06.05 20:59 CST].

Good thing you let Indy's vote in your primary or your turnout would be even more dismal despite having a statewide race [Troy Jones, comment, Madville Times, 2012.06.05 22:33 CST].


Dem voter turnout was better in District 22, Beadle and Kingsbury counties, where 24.08% of registered Dems came out to vote in the hotly contested three-way State House primary. In the only two other Legislative Dem primaries, Dem turnout was lower than the paltry statewide average. The three-way District 15 House primary in Sioux Falls, drew 16.06%. The four-way District 26A House primary in Mellette and Todd counties drew 16.57%.

Mitchell had some exciting municipal ballot items; Davison County drew 55.16% Dem turnout and 49.7% overall.

Even local issues didn't guarantee higher turnout. But the Matt Varilek&ndashJeff Barth campaign definitely didn't drive turnout. The rage over Matt Varilek's error on gay marriage, the rage over Jeff Barth's error on Bush tax cuts... none of it materialized. Dems just went meh.

This fine morning, I lodge only one complaint against the Matt Varilek campaign, a campaign which I now wholeheartedly support. Varilek crushed Jeff Barth 72% to 28%. That's awesome. But Team Varilek failed to inspire 88% of available Dems to vote for him. That's awful.

We Dems need all hands on deck this fall. I'm on, and I know others who are on. But we 12% cannot beat the million-dollar Noem machine alone. We need 100% of Dems, and a whole bunch of other folks. Team Varilek, you have five months to fire those people up. Make it so!


  1. Testor15 2012.06.06

    In the run up to this primary we tried to find a get out the vote effort for Barth and it was not to be found. In my 50 years of being politically active, no amount of paid advertising, cute social media, emails, robo-calling or other new fangled gimmicks will beat a campaign running a grassroots ground game. Barth's YouTube production, his improved campaign style and direct answers to questions took the campaign to the front-lines. The problem once again for the Barth, Matt and the Democrats is their lack of planning and executing a ground game.
    When an underfunded, minority candidate lacks a strong ground game AND voice the candidate will always lose the election. Ground games are boring, hard work. No one wants to do it. It really is not difficult to understand.
    The Democrats were very successful in the early 1970's with Kneip, Abourezek, McGovern, Dougherty and Denholm because the campaigns worked together with Gerry Andrews and Jim Guffey to build a party. A strong party management style of the GOP will always win in SD when faced with a mish-mash of kinda-sorta candidates to defeat.
    I get a dozen or more OFA emails a week and they all go directly into my junk mail. Why should I help OFA build a national organization when they do not help the down ticket candidates? Why aren't the Dems trying to build a state party organization for the long haul?

  2. Mark 2012.06.06

    Overall, a pathetic turnout. While it's critical for the candidates and their parties to energize the campaign, the electorate, too, has a responsibility. Because of the lack of public polling, maybe the "foregone conclusion" was a factor. It's easy to sense a certain excitement in the echo chamber of the blogosphere that is too often more imaginery than real.
    There weren't many surprises yesterday. And if certain things don't get kicked up a notch, there probably won't be too many surprises in November.
    I'd suggest a joint Varilek-Barth press conference sometime today or tomorrow as a good start.

  3. mike 2012.06.06

    Great analysis.

  4. Anna 2012.06.06

    I guess that was my biggest issue with Varilek. He's I mean, he's competent and generally knows what he's talking about, but he's trying to excite me by telling me that lots of important people like him and his bad positions on issues aren't really as bad as they seem. I'm not excited in the least. Luckily for you all, I'm not registered to vote in SD.

  5. Chris E. 2012.06.06

    Anna pretty much covered my views on Varilek. He needs to find his inner Jeff Barth. One that can generate at least some burst in momentum at least within the Democratic Party. That's obviously lacking. Otherwise, he'll join a very long line of Generic Party People with Endorsements in losing the election with a blowout.

    I'm very willing to vote for Matt, tell others to vote for Matt, and even shill some money his way, but he's not the type of candidate I would follow to the gates of probability hell.

  6. Carter 2012.06.06

    Precisely what Barry, Bill, and myself talk about in the old post.

    Republicans are building a strong base with charismatic, uncompromising extremists, and the GOP voters are loving it. Matt and other Dems don't stand a chance while they're still trying to play the compromise game.

    Compromise and consensus-building are great when both teams are playing ball, but when one team is on the Extreme side and the other side is just trying to compromise, everything will go towards the extreme. If Matt wants to win this election, he needs to do something to really grab everyone's attention to rally them behind him. His strategy now of trying to get everyone to kind of agree with him is only ever going to win him a lukewarm reception.

    It worked against Barth, who played the game the same way. But when he's going against GOP Darling Noem this fall he's going to need to make bigger calls and take bigger risks. He'll only beat Noem with a home run, so he's got to swing like he's trying for one. He'll lose even bigger if his risk taking fails, but if it succeeds, he can at least edge past Noem. Without taking big risks, he won't lose by as much, I think, but he can't possibly win.

    Like the old saying goes, Matt, go big or go home.

  7. Taunia 2012.06.06

    Testor15 says, "I get a dozen or more OFA emails a week and they all go directly into my junk mail. Why should I help OFA build a national organization when they do not help the down ticket candidates? Why aren’t the Dems trying to build a state party organization for the long haul?"

    Painfully true. This is going to be an up ticket election everywhere.

    Four years ago OFA went in to nearly every Democratic headquarters they could find, sucked up the resources and the volunteers for one candidate. They didn't do any coordinating with other candidates, federal, state or local. Our Democratic headquarters office opens next weekend and we've agreed OFA isn't coming in because resources and volunteers are even more limited and state and local candidates will lose if it's a down ticket campaign.

    The State Party is even worse. I say that loosely, however, because it hurts more to get used and abused by people you know from the State Party.

    Democrats need a new campaign business model. And Citizen's United needs to go.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.06

    Good point, Carter. Compromise is a virtue once we're all at the table making policy. But to get our players into the game, we've got to play hardball in the elections.

    And yes, Taunia, we must build our local candidates. We must fight that deep ground game everywhere.

  9. Mike Larson 2012.06.06

    I think that you have forgotten another problem. Politics are local. It seems that in far to many of the districts, there were no other primaries except that of Varilek and Barth. I know in District 6 here, the Republican ticket had 4 candidates running and there were only 2 for the Democrats for the house race. The Republicans also had a primary for the Senate seat, while there was none for the Democratic party.
    We need to work on more candidate development or just switch parties and try to pull the Republicans back to the center from the inside.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.06

    No, no, no! Nobody else switches! Pulling the GOP back center from inside is unnecessary effort. Let the right wing pull them past right to Lora Hubbel absurdity. They will collapse (they have to, I must believe!). If you have any energy, keep in in the Dem party to pull Varilek toward the fire and defense of equality he'll need to win.

  11. Barry Smith 2012.06.06

    Dissolve the South Dakota Democratic Party Hmmmm!
    No no the Republicans have enough problems- can you Imagine? Besides I think you have to sign something now that says you will see everything the way Bob Ellis does. I don't think it is a simple matter of just switching anymore.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.06

    Barry, Mike, what if we Dems wait so we can serve as the safe haven for the Republicans who find themselves driven out of their own party by the ideologues?

  13. Carter 2012.06.06

    Question: If we become a safe haven for Republicans who stop being Republicans because their former party is too far right, will we not end up going farther right to accommodate them?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.06

    We'll fight that battle at convention when we come to it. For now, I'd say that they'll find our simple sanity and focus on policy sufficient accommodation from the theocratic purity tests and reality denial of a party of Lora Hubbel and Ed Randazzo.

    But let's remember: that wing of the party mostly lost last night. They will lose more in November.

  15. Joe 2012.06.07

    politics are local, even though there was a race it wasn't a big one, there was 2 guys, yeah they differed on some things but where pretty equal on many issues. Many democrats stayed home because they really didn't care who won they would have supported either guy.

    In South Dakota the only way you are going to get a big turnout in a primary for democrats is if you have 2 big names in a primary fight for Gov./Senate/Congress or if you go to the California style where they all run against each other in the primary and the top 2 go off in the final no matter what the party name is.

  16. Mike Larson 2012.06.07

    One of the great things in my opinion about the Democratic party is that it has always been dysfunctional in a way. The reason for the dysfunctional aspects is that the party is not about purity of ideas, but function as a market place of ideas. According to the recent Pew Research study I think that the split between those Democrats that claim themselves moderate and liberal are equal, but those in the Republican party the moderates are almost nonexistent and the conservatives are taking over.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.07

    Permanent dysfunction as a strength—there's something either crazy or profound in that... perhaps something deeply American.

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