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SD Democrats Dropping Ball on Voter Registration

South Dakota Democratic party chief Ben Nesselhuf has been doing a good job getting party finances on the rebound. However, his focus on fundraising appears to have kept him from boosting Democratic voter registration. Mr. Powers gleefully points to Ryan Lengerich's RCJ report showing Dems down 9% since the 2008 election:

In 2008, Democratic voter registration soared nationwide as well as in South Dakota. More than 13,000 voters registered Democrat between the 2006 and 2008 general elections, driven largely by the Obama campaign.

The momentum has waned since, with Democratic registration dropping 18,372 voters, or about 9 percent. The numbers have dipped below even the 2006 levels. State Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf said he is not worried, however.

"Registration doesn't really concern me. I am more concerned with how people vote," he said [Ryan Lengerich, "Voter Registration Down from Four Years Ago," Rapid City Journal, August 11, 2012].

Registration doesn't really concern me... those sound like famous last words. Maybe I'm wrong (after all, Nesslehuf does politics for a living; I just write about it), but number of people registered as a member of a party seems like one pretty good metric of party success. And in 2012, a general election year with an incumbent Democratic President on the ballot, Democratic registration in South Dakota has remained flat, hovering around 186,000 all year. That's not a sign of success.

Nesselhuf contends that, with Democrats offering Independents the opportunity to vote in our primary since 2010, comparing 2008 numbers with current numbers isn't fair. And indeed, Indies have enjoyed all the growth in registration over the last four years:

South Dakota Voter Registration GOP Dems Ind
2008 General 241,528 204,413 82,473
2010 General 237,809 194,204 85,296
Aug 1 2012 236,906 186,041 88,726
2008-2010 -1.5% -5.0% 3.4%
2010-2012 -0.4% -4.2% 4.0%
2008-2012 -1.9% -9.0% 7.6%

That open primary, however, didn't translate into Indies flocking to Dem candidates in 2010. And Indies didn't exactly storm the polls in this year's primary: with a relatively interesting battle for the U.S. House nomination, turnout for the Democratic primary was still depressingly low, and significantly lower the GOP primary turnout.

Getting a voter to register Democrat builds the party. Democratic registration wins early buy-in to the Democratic platform and candidates. It gives potential candidates that many more targets for signatures for nominating petitions. A voter registration drive is a great way to make contact with voters, put a face on the party, and conduct interactions that conclude with concrete action, filling out and sending that card, to make people feel good about themselves and their democracy.

How people vote is the most important measure of party success, but getting people to register, to "buy into the brand," matters, too. Chairman Nesselhuf and the South Dakota Dems need to add some focus on the basic business of voter registration drives to bolster the party's electoral future.


  1. Bill Fleming 2012.08.14

    Really interesting numbers. Clearly, the trend in South Dakota is to go Indy. Of course, if you actually want to vote on anything or run for office, you should probably register Republican.

    What would be even more instructive Cory, if the information is available, is to track how the registrants have moved from one voter status to another. (i.e. how many Indys used to be GOP? How many D's have become R's?, etc. A cool little diagram with arrows and stuff...)

    I keep saying it, but have a hard time getting anyone to believe it. THE PURPOSE OF A POLITICAL PARTY IS TO WIN ELECTIONS.

    To date, it appears only South Dakota Republicans understand this.

  2. larry kurtz 2012.08.14

    The only way to beat the earth haters is at their own game: lay political waste to the Schoenbeck wing.

  3. larry kurtz 2012.08.14

    The Howie wing is the snowplow making the Schoenbeck wing look sane: think it's not related?

  4. Julie Gross (NE) 2012.08.14

    --A voter registration drive is a great way to make contact with voters, put a face on the party,

    Gee, could it be that SD voters recognize the face fo the SSD Dem party and find it ugly?

    --to make people feel good about themselves and their democracy.

    Dems are great at making people feel good about themselves, mostly by getting the gov't to send them a check

  5. Justin 2012.08.14

    A hilarious statement for a state that is vastly GOP and takes 1.8 dollars in federal taxes for each dollar we pay.

  6. larry kurtz 2012.08.14

    Pat: where is the water for the cheese factory in Brookings and which union is organizing its workforce?

  7. Julie Gross (NE) 2012.08.14

    --A hilarious statement for a state that is vastly GOP and takes 1.8 dollars in federal taxes for each dollar we pay.

    With a TRILLION dollar annual deficit, most every state is getting more than it pays. Duh. THAT's the problem.

    What's even more hilarious is this: "Today I am pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office."

    Barry Obama, 2/23/09

    Half? He's done a wonderful job nearly TRIPLING it since FY2008!!

    57 states; half = triple; naval corps = naval corpse; white mama & black papa got together to make little Barry following the march on Selma.

    The guy is an idiot.

  8. Taunia 2012.08.14

    You're over the line with your racism, Julie. Back off.

    If the taxes were being collected every state would be better off. Cutting taxes further will not make things better.

    Back to the topic. Registering people to vote that aren't in the habit of voting is one thing. Getting them to actually vote is another. 8 out of 100 newly registered people vote. It takes a lot more energy and resources to keep the conversation going - prodding and reminding people to vote - with the newly registered than the already registereds.

    Keeping the base together seems to be the focus on both sides. Until this VP announcement, however.

    October 6, 2012 is the last day to register to vote to be able to vote in the November 6 election.

  9. Justin 2012.08.14

    You are so worried about the deficit you support spending over 100 billion on repealing ACA and its savings, as well as spending hundreds of billions annually more on military that the Joint Chiefs want. Then you also support a complete elimination of capital gains taxes and a 20% across the board cut of all tax rates.

    You must have gotten an economics degree the same place Rush and Hannity graduated from college. I wouldn't say you have license to call anybody an idiot embracing that plan.

  10. Testor15 2012.08.14

    The Democrats since 1974 have had no concern to register new members. There has not been a concerted effort because it is a boring process. The Democrats restart the get out the vote effort every election or so if the leader wishes to actually work. Get out the vote efforts take a technocrat leader not a show horse leader to make it successful.
    The Democrats will have to start understanding winning elections is a 24 / 7 / 365 process to succeed. They need to quit playing the last minute politic games. Quit playing with the latest fads to get out the word and start convincing the potential workers of the need to do the boring down & dirty work everyday. Playing with Facebook is a lot more fun. Finances will follow easier if the potential donors actually see something getting done.
    Mr Nes. can make many public pronouncements but if no one is working who cares. They will not be listening or caring because they have no skin in the game. Party volunteers have skin in the game and when you are losing all the time, it takes a real leader to keep them motivated.
    The SD GOP has the same families doing many of the same volunteer jobs for years. These people won't ever be part of the ruling leaders but they are made to feel important. Teenage Republicans (TAR) organization, college republicans and more young adult republican leadership programs teach / indoctrinate responsibility to the party above all. The SD Dems have nothing even close, never have and probably never will.
    I am not an advocate of blind and dumb followers. A educated excited electorate wins elections.

  11. grudznick 2012.08.14

    Indeed, Mr. Testor. Much of what you say is spot on. I have to disagree about Mr. Nesselhuf being a show horse. He seems more like a rodeo clown.

    PS: I want business people running the business functions in the schools that my great grandchildren will attend. I bet you that the legal beagles and accounting gurus (not Sibby) at your local schools do not have geography or french teaching certificates.

  12. troy 2012.08.14


    Nothing I'm going to say is meant to denigrate anyone. I say this because I believe and desire a strong two party system.

    People running parties are mentored by someone. George McGovern was the last SD Democrat who believed in organization. Just as Jim Abdnor, George Mickelson and Bill Janklow (albeit Janklow's was a bit unorthodox). Abouresk wasn't an organization man. Abouresk mentored Daschle. Daschle dominated SD Dem politics. Many of the people in the party were mentored by Daschle, including Johnson and Herseth. Daschle didn't emphasize organization to the same level as McGovern, Abdnor, Janklow.

    On the other hand, Thune and Rounds came out of the Abdnor organization. Daugaard has Dusty Johnson who was basically raised in the Abdnor organization.

    Rick Haufe when he ran the Dems seemed to get it as it seemed like out of nowhere organization showed up. It wasn't quite as oiled as the GOP which I think is a function his elected leaders didn't emphasize it like what the GOP leaders did but it was effective.

    Organization isn't the only way to win elections. Daschle/Johnson/Herseth proved that. But, in my view since it is all I know, I think it best. The big challenge is organization takes years to build and often doesn't show results for several cycles.

  13. Testor15 2012.08.14

    Troy and Grudz,
    I have been in state politics for over 40 years and watched the Democrats in dumb amazement. McGovern was a detail oriented idea man who pushed to build something, a legacy to a belief. Just as so many other WWII vets who returned from the hellish war, they never wanted to see the disorganized chaos they grew up in. McGovern saw how simple it was to build something, not through glitz and fad but by caring about the people and the ideas they brought forward. He built the Democratic organization in an old car and 3x5 cards. He showed some of us how simple the steps are. We learned from a master organizer how to keep the message simple and how to simplify the organization. With all the new fangled equipment and media we have today the art of politics has fallen to a new low in South Dakota. I did not think it could get any lower. We do not need to wast resources on fads but on how to go back to simple messaging in our neighborhoods.
    In 1974 the campaign to re-elect McGovern was brutal but it was not the only battle the Dems fought. I remember the games McGovern's manager / aide George Cunningham played to destroy the Democratic Party, he may have been McGovern's right hand man but he destroyed the successful Dem recipe for success. With the gubernatorial primary loss of Bill Dougherty to Dick Kneip, all party cohesion disappeared. George Cunningham promoted Larry Pressler for 1st district house. There was to be no cooperation with other campaigns. I could say more but the Dems would be too self absorbed to understand.
    James Abourezk was a party man, a first rate party man. He and his staff were always there for the party before he saw the handwriting on the wall. The GOP and Dems were out to destroy the Loud Arab from South Dakota. The Nixon / Ford / Carter administrations were out to get him for his work on world peace and high oil profits among other things. His filibuster work was first rate.
    The Cunningham damage has never been repaired. Daschle was only for Daschle like Lars and Stephanie were always for themselves. Never party people only party users. People like me have watched from a distance because we were told our services were out of date. We were not in it for ourselves but for the greater good. You and I may not agree on perspective but we fought a good safe battle.
    Even though the GOP has always been a divided party they have always fought to keep the party first even when the party hierarchy was against the members.
    It saddens me to see how the bankers are controlling the scene today. We now have bankers controlling us, both parties. How many people out there really want to work to put actual people back in charge of their respective parties. I am not talking crazy ideologues but people who know and understand the fine art of politics and principles. When will we quit thinking this is a sporting event, winner take all?
    An old car and 3x5 cards can still win.

  14. Testor15 2012.08.14

    Grudz, I too want business people running the 'business' functions in the schools. We could hire many qualified attorneys to be qualified attorneys for schools. Why do we need attorneys in line to be a Sanford Falls superintendent?

  15. Justin 2012.08.14

    I don't know that I have an answer for you Testor, but I suspect since the School Board is mostly business people, they probably did the hiring. If anything, I think our state's record on education would suggest that business people as well as voters in our state often exhibit at best underappreciation of our educators, and at worst hostile derision.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.08.15

    Troy and Testor, tell me more about this "organization" that McGovern made happen but subsequent Dems haven't. How do we build that? What role do voter registration drives play in that? And how have Daschle, Johnson, and Herseth Sandlin won without building the organization you say we need?

  17. Troy Jones 2012.08.15

    Registration drives are the fruits of organization.

    Here is a good test of your organization.

    You had 10 eleven legislative openings. Who recruits replacement/applicants on the ground, who picks the replacements, if there is one unworthy replacement, who has authority to leave candidacy vacant, is the State party only advisory or the ultimate authority?

    Give us a report on these replacement and process for their selection, and I can tell you if you have an organization.

    Organization is nebulous. It just shows up to meet a need money cant. It's like porn:. You know it when you see it whether it be one that looks like Abdnor's or Janklow's.

    Don Haggar gets it and I think it was critical to him getting the word out against Dave Munsen. And, I think it will result in at least one surprise in the legislative races.

  18. Testor15 2012.08.15

    Cory, there were two people who created the modern political system of South Dakota. We have talked of George McGovern and his long term strategy based on the infamous 3x5 cards. The other is Alice Kundert. Alice is the founder of today's South Dakota GOP. When I hear accolades to Nils Boe, Abnor, Janklow, Mundt for hiring people to carry it forward they are forgetting Alice and her part. Prior to Alice the GOP was a group of strong-arm people who won elections by force.
    The Dems have dropped the ball after every election. The candidate is usually so burned by the party and process they go into hiding. Almost all of the campaigns have either put their voter information in storage or destroyed the data. Within the party, since the candidate lost, they must never be listened to again. Because the campaign / candidate paid for everything and built all from scratch there is no long-term strategy for data to move forward. The get the vote data and the methods are the property of the campaigns and not shared between. During each election season the campaigns say they will share / work together but everything is so disorganized and duplicated it becomes unusable.
    There also is no trust between organizations. For instance, Obama for America has spent time in South Dakota collecting names and addresses. You know what this is for long-term? When 2013 comes along, the OFA database goes to Chicago, New York, Washington to be sold to the highest bidder. The local party has succumb once again to the expedient over the prudent. The list will not be fully available to the SD Democratic Party. I refuse to donate to OFA because of what Rahm Emanuel did to Howard Dean and the 50 state movement of 2006 / 2008.
    There is no plan to carry anything forward, as stated above, to the next several cycles. There is no teenage Democratic organization to develop the next generation of leaders. Nothing is done to invest in the future or learn from the past.
    Alice Kundert was a school teacher. She took her mighty skills and taught the GOP how to win. She did this by cultivating the young to teach, do the grunt work and leadership skills necessary to win. She probably spent more time on the campaign trail teaching us about the importance of the offices of Auditor and SOS. She mixed into these talks with why everyone, no matter the party, should be involved in the process. She of course wanted us to be GOP but if we couldn't be, she still helped us. Her goal was an educated electorate.
    Who do we have like her today? Where is the vision of the Democratic Party today? Today we have consultants, short term thinkers. Consultants have learned how to milk the candidates by owning the software, data and images instead of investing in the future for us, they take a percentage. We have a bunch of local party advocates who are GOP-lite who see process but lack vision. Copycats without understanding.
    Grudz said it above but it does not only apply to Mr. Ben, they are a bunch of show horses pretending to work. I have tried for several cycles to help the Dems understand the need for long-term planning and execution only to be shut out of the offices. I could say more but with what I have supplied you may have the answer you requested.

  19. troy 2012.08.15


    Great call on Alice. How could I forget her? She basically cross-polinated organization to candidates and made them the party's. Nobody who has been active in SD GOP politics the last 40+ years doesn't owe her a debt of gratitude, whether they know her name or not.

    Regarding Abouresk, I consider him a friend. I made a point to go to the local Dem. gathering when he speaks just to say Hi. I invited him to a Canary game where McGovern, Abdnor and Thune were going to share hot dogs and baseball (McGovern and Abdnor both followed the Cards) so I have respect for him. When I run into him (which incidentally is a long time ago so I hope he is well), I do my best to re-introduce myself to him.

    While a good party man as you say, I'm not quite sure he had what fits my concept of organization. Yes, he had good solid personal relationships that gave appearance of organization. But, as I recall (I was just a teen then so my perception could be wholly inaccurate) it wasn't "organized" like McGovern's, Abdnor's et. al.

    Regarding Cunningham (who I think I met in high school as I grew up in Pierre), all I know is he was considered a very worthy opponent by someone who worked for Mundt and was held in high regard. And Abdnor liked him even though he made him wince.

  20. troy 2012.08.15

    P.S. Good point on Obama's organization. I've heard that more than once. This is contrast to what is happening in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia to the cooperation between the GOP Governors of those states and Romney-Ryan. If Romney wins those states, it will confirm your point. Organization transcends the individual candidate.

  21. Testor15 2012.08.15

    Troy is a product of Alice's hard work. I continue to commend her and McGovern for being our pioneers. I have no time for ideology only people who only want to win elections then destroy the system.

  22. Bill Fleming 2012.08.15

    I think Hildy has always been one of the best SD Dem grassroots organizers. No lack of work ethic there.

  23. troy 2012.08.15

    I am a product of Alice. I'm ashamed I forgot her. I can almost without question say I'd have never done what I have, learned what I have, enjoyed what I have, suffered what I have if it hadn't been for Alice. I even have the "privilege" of having been called into her office and told to clean up my act (she had heard beer had been procured during a TAR event. Drinking age was 18 then but most weren't 18 and definitely not me). Alice is definitely a kind and smart woman but she can be dang tough. The conversation still resonates with me (maybe that is why I didn't mention her. :) )

    Testor, we know each other don't we? Your anonymity is safe with me.

  24. Testor15 2012.08.15

    Hildy is one of the best and as such, many long-term manipulators do not want him involved. As with me, put him in the next room and use his knowledge and connections but...
    There is a great deal of talent available to make a multiparty system work in South Dakota but those who now control both are not 'locals'. Look at the influx of PAC money and see who runs things now.
    Troy, George Cunningham was a snake in the grass. A local Karl Rove who liked to pull pranks on people he wanted out of the way. I watched him destroy people just for fun and power. When he ran for office there were many who got even with him every way they could.
    As for Jim Abourezk, he won because he relied on the Democratic organization. He did his part sharing time, staff and money, I know this because I was there. He still is a Democrat and if you are looking for him, just go to the restaurant at noon and join him for lunch for a spirited discussion. He is one of my favorite people. I never worked for him but the campaigns I did help relied on him in many ways.

  25. larry kurtz 2012.08.15

    Too many county chairs are vacant, the ground game is broken.

  26. Testor15 2012.08.15

    Troy, I have probably run into you a few times over the years and it appears I am older than you. South Dakota is every small state with most of us being only a relative or friend away from each other. A very small Kevin Bacon scenario.

  27. Testor15 2012.08.15

    When the state party is located in Sioux Falls and never travels the state you do not build a party. I have watched the past few major statewide campaigns lose because they kept there day jobs in Sioux Falls and only appeared after the 5pm news broadcasts. Mr Ben did an admirable job crisscrossing the state but when he is running for a down ticket office there is no one above him bringing in the voters to the polls.
    With Stephie we had an opportunist who used the name / legacy of Herseth to run for office. She forgot she was from one of the first families of the Democratic Party or maybe she learned the opportunistic approach from her father. She was not a Democrat. She learned to use the party as a base for her learned corporatist ideals. Blue Dog Democrats are not Democrats, never have been, never will be. It is actually nice to see them being defeated all over the USA this election cycle.
    The Democratic Party must have a full-time presence in Pierre being part of the 'state' community. Equal time distance to all corners of the state, hearing the scuttlebutt on the street, seeing who goes into and out of the offices and generally being part of the action is important. Even though Sioux Falls is the largest town in SD, very little state daily power is there. If you lived and worked in Pierre building an organization, it would be convenient to and you would want to travel to all parts of the state

  28. Dougal 2012.08.15

    Interesting that the 2008 cycle gets overlooked in this discussion. It saw a massive spike in Democrat registrations over 2006, inspired by the Clinton/Obama primary action and a deflated GOP after two terms of Bush/Cheney. It was not the result of a voter registration drive, but the result of sheer momentum. The last time real resources were invested by Democrats in voter registrations was 1986 when the Daschle machine had the SDDP coordinated campaign hire teams of kids to go door to door to manufacture the margin of victory over Sen. Abdnor.

    Having said that, don't interpret my observations as supporting money to be invested in massive registration drives. I don't think that works (yet) in the culture of what we know as the South Dakota Democratic Party. Save it for when Democrats can sweep offices in Pierre and patronage can be used to inspire people to be Democrats. Thus far, patronage is the captive of the state GOP who really know how to use it.

    The observations by Troy Jones and Testor15 are pretty accurate, although some parts are missing. The state Democrats are still the party of George McGovern, but I think it's time it reinvented itself. Ben Nesselhuf is doing a good job to turn the battleship around, but he faces a lot of obstacles, the biggest being too many (old) people saying, "you can't do it that way, because this is the way we've always done it." Ben should dump the present state central committee and transform the organization from being a county-based social club to a work-oriented district-based task force. Time is wasting.

    Democrats need to stop being the cult of personality for future Daschles and Stephanies. The state Republican Party has kept a core identity and a functional role (Governor's Club) that sustains victories in the statehouse where all real power, jobs and contracts exist. There is much to be learned from the state GOP, although much of it is not transferrable to the culture of Democrats. Democrats have to evolve being the one-trick pony that wins Congressional seats, but fails massively to even recruit opponents to the GOP domination of the legislature and constitutional seats. As evidenced by the defeats of Stephanie and Daschle, the one-trick pony model is no longer competent. It's time to make some big, fundamental changes or face more disappointments.

    In 2008, Democrats benefitted from the rising national tide. Waiting for the next rising tide is not a strategy. It's a complete cop out.

  29. Testor15 2012.08.15

    McGovern built a Democratic coalition now dying off. Dougal has several good points but as I remember 1986 it was more about Daschle than anything. He knew enough to use what was left of the party organization. Daschle found the money and staff to create a momentum for him. It did not transfer far enough down the line by 'hiring' young people to do the work. It takes inspiring young people like Alice / McGovern were able to do to get work done, learn and feel like they have skin in the future game.
    I remember conversations with Jerry Andrews and Jim Guffy after the new Democrats used them up. They so wanted to be in the action but they were not personality driven enough to be of value. These were the men inspired to make a 1970's Democratic Party for the future. They became the butt of jokes because they wanted to build a strong party over the cults of personalty.

  30. troy 2012.08.15

    Testor, if you are not sure, maybe I have you confused with another. I'm a very young 51. :) The person I'm thinking of is a good friend of my sister-in-law who was the State Senator who was defeated by Mike Rounds.

    Which in my family was an interesting dynamic that year. I love my sister-in-law, think she served with honor and integrity but couldn't vote for her (she knew it and understood). I "rationalized" it in my heart mostly because I had eaten too many meals in the Rounds home growing up.

    But, we regress. The point that both of are making is the importance of long-term relationships in organization. The impulse to destroy and demonize opponents may have impact short-term but long-term destroys an organization. An analogy is a person has their "dream" job but the organization's culture is so yucky they grow disenchanted and weary.

    In the heyday when both parties had organization, the cultures were healthy. McGovern and Abdnor (and their organizations fought hard) but it didn't stop us "workers" having a beer together and in once case getting invited to a wedding "across the aisle."

    And, in some ways, blogs don't help. You want to get traffic and comments, say something inflamatory. Even if it is "factually" accurate, the tone can be destructive to something greater.

    Interesting thing to consider:

    Voter Registration 1980: 410,327
    Voter Registration 2008: 505,240

    Voters in Presidential Race 1980: 327,703
    Voters in Presidential Race 2008: 381,975

    Registered Voter Turn-out 1980: 80%
    Registered Voter Turn-out 2008: 75%

    While still great compared to the nation, something is amiss. And, while I wouldn't trade your problems for mine (who is a Republican and who is not), we all would be better served, in my mind, if we both were a bit better.

  31. Dougal 2012.08.15

    Offices make sense in Pierre, Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Maybe Aberdeen. When Democrats failed to maintain a competent staff member in Rapid City, you saw Republicans succeed at radicalizing and growing the GOP base, making it an armed camp. Competent fulltime state party staff is needed to begin turning the momentum around. It won't happen by itself.

    Failure to adequately and competently staff a Sioux Falls office will see the same thing as Rapid City happen in the Sioux Falls metro area where more than 20 percent of the state's voters are located.

    Because of 34 years of unchallenged GOP patronage, there is little that a state Democrat office in Pierre can do other than to staff legislative sessions, listen to insider gossip between sessions, and travel to major destinations like Hayes, Agar, Onida, Reliance and Fort Thompson. We can debate the merits of having the state headquarters in Pierre or Sioux Falls, and there are pluses and minuses to each, but I think you can have the same quality debate comparing the merits of Sioux Falls with Chamberlain.

  32. Testor15 2012.08.15

    Troy this is getting very interesting for us but I wonder if anyone else is actually understanding what we are saying. I am about 10 years older than you and not related to anyone out in the Pierre area. My first interest in politics took place during the Kennedy-Nixon race of 1960. Each election after made me want to be part of more until the disasters of the 1980's when people like me were asked to leave the room when the real decisions were made.
    We were not part of the new fangled ways of paid consultants. I remember sitting in a living room in 1977 while a candidate was listening to a Washington consultant map a strategy. I was just a local guy so my value to the campaign was to be limited. I was volunteering, the consultant was being paid big bucks. I had already been in several district / statewide campaigns by then so I was asked to be in the room. I remember a couple of times injecting actual knowledge no one else knew and being shutdown because I was not the 'expert'. During the next year of the campaign, when all was falling apart I was able to work with my fellow volunteers and save the day. The consultants just spent money and collected their percentage. It was carnage.
    Consultants have a place with their advice and connections. Without a long term strategy for organization all the voter registration, get out the vote and fundraising does not work to win.

  33. Testor15 2012.08.15

    Dougal, If the money was raised to place office in each city it might work. Pierre needs to be manned year around for all the reasons we both have mentioned and more. Howard Dean's 50 state strategy was a way to help finance and organize. We have the selfishness of Rahm for destroying something actually able to work for the future. When you have a decentralized power structure designed around Dean's idea it interferes with a centralized greed system.
    Of what good is a Dem office in Sioux Falls other than being around more like thinking people? By being in Pierre the state coordinator must rely on local party structures more. Jerry Andrews and Jim Guffy built the winning base we all succeeded with until the dawn of Daschle.

  34. troy 2012.08.15


    I have slightly different spin on 1986. Yes, to some degree Daschle "copied" and "utilized" organization but it was created for that election and didn't survive.

    Maybe here is something to consider. You mention the young people who worked for Daschle. Where are they now in the party? Of the Abdnor Team from 1980, of those still in the state, they are still involved (to different degrees). Those that have moved are active in their new state. Some have served in elective office. In fact, the person who was selected to run for Todd Schlekaway's (sp?) was active in helping the Teen-Age Republicans. Don Haggar is a former state College Republican Chairman.

    I also disagree that the "patronage" is even an issue. Of the 24 people who went door-to-door for Abdnor, maybe three ever had a patronage job. And of the thousand CR's that year who worked on campuses for Abdnor, virtually none did. They were inspired to be involved/make a difference and their was an organization ready to put them to use.

    When you have no organization to put them to use, it is a resource wasted.

    And, while I'm being non-partisan, I'm going to draw a distinction.

    During the last campaign, I happened to look at USD's CR website. On its lead page it had a discussion of their projects, mentioned Dan Lederman coming to campus, and if I remember right planning a literature drop for him. And, because it was linked from a War College Post, during that campaign I also looked at if I remember right the SDSU YD's website. It had a vile discussion basically saying Noem was a disgrace to women and to bring signs to a protest outside one of her campaign stops.

    First, one was organized to do work that was more than a photo op.

    Second, I can assure you if the objectives were reversed, my daughters would not be involved. People are motivated to work FOR something, and not just be against. This is why I think the "occupy" concept is a negative for you guys while the Tea Party is a positive for us.

    Whether anyone is listening or understanding, I don't let it bother me. Political opponents are not my enemies. Campaigns should be the culmination on election day of issue development, organization development, and capturing the needs and aspirations of the people. Unfortunately, they seem to have become over-run by politics of centered on the cult of candidates who only think about winning, without regard to the cost. This is what drives the consultants and gives them influence.

    I don't want this comment to ruin the tone of the discussion or think i'm trying to make a partisan point.

    However, I am encouraged for the reasons we are talking about and I think it might be the difference in the race but I think I see alot of good things in the Romney campaign, stuff I haven't seen since Reagan 1980 and Clinton 1992. There is one state where I know ground-work is being laid where if Romney wins this currently "leaning Obama" state wouldn't surpise me if Romney pulls an upset or is shockingly close.

  35. Bill Fleming 2012.08.15

    Barney Frank said approximately the same thing about the 99% movement (Occupy). Unless it can be translated into votes, it's a waste of political energy.

    Even so, I'm not so sure it won't be translated into votes. Time will tell.

    If Romney/Rand keep making 1% entitlement noises, they might well (if inadvertently) become the grassroots ballot box Democratic and Indy political organizers the 99%ers are currently lacking.

  36. troy 2012.08.15

    Bill, a guy has to have hope. If this is the best you got (Romney/Rand really?), I'm ready to start making the wagers.

  37. Dougal 2012.08.15

    Testor15 - I strongly agree about the 50-state strategy which provided a brief period of staffing to help build state parties. The Obama people are paying the price for abandonning it because it really did fit into the culture of the Democratic Party at the local level. It also abandonned the social media link that cultivated a young voter base in the direction of rolling them into local and state Democratic Party organizations. And then, POOF!, it vanished and the Tea Party GOP was allowed to rush forward with virtually no resistance, making ObamaCare a juicy target.

    I greatly respect Jerry Andrews and Jim Guffy for their spade work. Organizers have new tools to use these days, but, as with Jerry and Jim, it will require a lot of persistence and willingness to dare. And not taking the naysayers seriously. Safe bets and doing it like we always did won't top the Republicans and their 34 years of successful control of grassroots politics.

    And Troy and Testor15, I'm sorry to appear tone deaf to your discussion about interpersonal relations to build political organizations. Both parties have suffered from cults of personality figures who used the resource but declined to reinvest after the election. I've seen some newer faces among Democrats and Republicans who can become the next charismatic personalities, like George McGovern or Alice Kundert.

    I agree with Troy that politics has become meaner and more divisive and personal, making it harder to have that beer among competitors. I'd like to see a time again when one's decision to seek elected office is honored as an act of citizenship and issues are debated based on facts and not on personal smears. But we are not in those times and the rough attacks are the current tools of the trade.

    Maybe that's because the game has shrunk from a door-to-door strategy seeking to involve volunteers. Now it's about getting ads on TV to first introduce the candidate, next define the opponent, gain a winning message and then to suppress the opponent's base. It's no longer a volunteer and a quality grassroots message strategy. It's about pandering to get the money to launch the negative TV strategy and microtargeted social media and direct mail.

    I don't know the magic answer to the rotted condition of political discourse these days. My words in Cory's excellent blog reflect the rotted condition of political discourse, and that's regrettable. Blogs can be useful, but too many of them turn rational people off and serve as an echo chamber to the shrinking base who hates the other shrinking base.

    My guess is the road out of the dilemma starts with involving rational, reasoning people in a constructive way. It's too late for 2012 to serve that purpose, but maybe it can start after Christmas if grown-ups in both parties reach out to redefine how politics gets done in the future.

  38. Bill Fleming 2012.08.15

    Oh... did I type "Rand"?
    How Freudian Slippery of me... sorry.
    I meant Ryan.
    No kidding.

  39. Bill Fleming 2012.08.15

    What I was trying to say, Troy, and apparently blew it, was that the 99% movement needs to be channeled into political action before it gets channeled into revolution. (Same as in the '60's-'70's with the Peace/Civil Rights movement.) The fruit is ripening on the tree. I like this discussion here with Dougal, Testor and you. It carries the promise of bi-partisanship if you (with an assist from guys like Cory) can inspire the next generation. If not, there may be hell to pay. Keep it up fellas.

  40. Testor15 2012.08.15

    If we want organizations to succeed we must not look for the the next charismatic personalities. These are people who can be controlled and then take control of the organization. Much like the Daschle types did with no long term good coming from it, the Dems are falling again into the OFA crap.
    I really believe the 99% movement is a same but different comparison to the Tea Party. Same as in frustration, different because it started as a real grassroots movement without the financing from lobbyists.
    The Occupy movement was a true expression of mass frustration. Some of the same people who were part of the Tea Party broke away to be part of the Occupy. The people who left the TP did not want to be controlled or directed. They wanted their frustration heard and felt.
    We do not have a political system ready or able to capture the frustration and move forward with it. As long as we have the uncontrolled money now destroying what is left, the people lose. Governing is not winner take all or "slash and burn". Governing is testing ideas, discussing ideas, compromise and working for the better good for the people being governed.

  41. Testor15 2012.08.15

    BTW, the 99% don't need to be channeled like carp. They need to be cultivated and worked with to bring their message to the politicians who can deal with it. If the pols don't do it to their satisfaction, the 99% will use the new found power in the system to make their message heard by changing the government from within.

  42. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.08.15

    "county-based social club"—ding ding ding, Dougal!

    Bill, don't sweat the slip: I've had Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and Ron Paul sloshing together in my head since Saturday.

    Testor and Troy: I'm highly intrigued to have those two guys in the same room talking about the greater political good.

    Testor: just a little note on your mention of the charismatic leader. Yes, we need to get the 99% to do more organizing for direct political power. I love civil disobedience, public demonstrations, and all that, but real change will come from winning seats in Pierre and Washington. But can we get to that success from Occupy's non-hierarchical approach, or do we have to find some key charismatic leaders who can put a face and name to the movement and rally people to action?

  43. Testor15 2012.08.15

    Charismatic leaders are less important than the principles AND organization. We have many charismatic leaders coming along who get lost when the guiding principles needed are weak.

  44. Bill Fleming 2012.08.15

    Testor, yes, definitely not like carp. ...anything but carp.

  45. troy 2012.08.15


    I'm always promoting the common good. You just don't recognize it.

    Regarding your question to testor, may I answer? I think none of them do anything tangible or discernable, except on the biggest issues. In the end, it takes two strong parties providing organization to candidates and candidates focusing on ideas within their political ideologies but willing to work together on common ground and fighting like hell on the differences.

    Some small group of protesters disrupting a speaker on a college campus, yelling obscenities at the President, or signs calling Ann Romney names. They do nothing good but make some malcontents feel good. Nobody should encourage them. There is serious business to be done.

  46. Testor15 2012.08.15

    The tone of today's politics happens when there is no positive way for people to get their points across. Party platforms used to mean something to keep everyone focused on principles. Now platforms are just arguing points or places to appease ideologues.
    Most charismatic candidates are just that, rudderless charismatic people.

  47. Dougal 2012.08.15

    I guess my term, charismatic leader, is not viewed in the context I meant.

    I've met hundreds of charismatic people who are leaders at some level in a neighborhood, in a congregation, on a nonprofit board, at school or just on the street. They are opinion shapers. Or they are idea people. Or consensus builders. Or just hard workers who grab the job they are given and go the extra mile, setting a good example.

    What they have in common is leadership abilities and/or skills. George McGovern wasn't born a national political leader. He grew up in a minister's family, did well in school, answered his nation's calling to war, did his duty and got the Distinguished Flying Cross, taught college and heard his calling to work with Ward Clark and push back to the power clic in Pierre by organizing a stubbornly inactive Democratic Party. Three years later, he used the structure he built and began his congressional career, and others used the structure to keep winning.

    The late Don Cook in Beadle County was an incredible fund raiser and organizer who didn't get paid for his work. He just cared about making a difference and didn't let the slackers get in his way. Others fell in line and Don created a political machine.

    Stan and Helen Frank weren't paid political people and didn't seek higher office. They focused on neighborhood development, starting with their meatpacker union contacts, and didn't let the slackers and clingons distract them. They kept the plow in the ground and made the machine work to elect Democrats to Pierre and Washington.

    There are lots of good examples of proven leaders at all levels in both the GOP and Democrat parties. Charismatic, to me, means someone has a light on. They care. They're going to ask people to help, and they've got the smarts to thank people so they do it again.

    What I've seen in the Democrat Party and my friends complain as much if not more about the GOP in South Dakota are the distractors. The people who take but don't give back. Or hold positions and do nothing because they have an axe to grind. Folks who are tired, burned out and won't step away or try to find someone to take their position. These are the ones who need to clear the deck so a new generation of activists can learn the ropes, make the mistakes, create some victories and move the ball further ahead.

    Both organizations need massive infusions of new blood. I say find some people with a spark or a flame of desire to change things for the better. Get them in a county party position and don't go home. Stay in there, stay out of the way and stay on the track to adapting and evolving as local and state organizations.

    It never starts with an idea. It always starts with people engaging more and more people. All you need is a spark to start a fire.

  48. Testor15 2012.08.15

    Dougal you are right on with your observatuions and people. I worked all you mentioned, everyone solid. Thank you for remembering the names. I could tell a few stories sometime.
    These were community leaders, thought shapers.

  49. Julie Gross (NE) 2012.08.16

    --You’re over the line with your racism, Julie. Back off

    Sorry, I don't kowtow to your race-baiting name-calling.

    Your president and vice president and AG are the worst racists and race-baiters this country has ever seen. As a result, we're more divided than ever.

    Sorry, your overused knee-jerk accusation of racism no longer holds any water. Get over it.

  50. larry kurtz 2012.08.16

    All Republicans are earth haters.

  51. Testor15 2012.08.16

    Julie Gross do you not live in the USA? Obama is the President of all USA.

  52. Julie Gross (NE) 2012.08.16

    --Obama is the President of all USA

    A president and VP and AG who speak and act in way that divide us by class and race is not my president. A president who orders the MURDER of US citizens because he (alone) determined they were "terrorists" is not my president. A President who arbitrarily refuses to execute the duly passed laws of this country (DOMA) is not my president. A president who engages in multiple military actions agains sovereign countries and violates the War Powers Act in the process is no president of mine.

    It's time for all good and patriotic people to denounce his racial thuggery. I do not recognize my country BECAUSE this president has done so much to betray its moral and constitutional values.

    Surely you do not approve of his actions as described?

    This is MY country--he is NOT my president.

  53. Testor15 2012.08.16

    Julie he is your president whether you like it or not. You may not like him but he actually was elected.
    I do not like a lot he has done but like W we have to respect the office as citizens.

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