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Vote for Experience: Varilek for Senate 2014!

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.


  1. grudznick 2013.03.17

    I approve. It could be an opportunity for many of us to get free corn dogs with mustard.

  2. LK 2013.03.17

    Varilek got 42.55% to Noem's 57.45%

    Thune lost to Johnson by fewer 524 votes

    In 2002 Herseth got 46.61% to Janklow's 53.47%. I don't want to damn her with faint praise because I think she ran a heck of a campaign, but her 51% win against Dietrich in the special election could have been a case of voters feeling buyers' remorse.

    If memory serves, Herseth did better than expected against Janklow. Varilek arguably did worse than expected against Noem.

    Even if he improves his total by 5% like SHS did, Varilek is still 2%-3% short.

  3. I agree, even if I did switch to a third party last election.

    He's also rather personable, and I really appreciate that. One can hope he would stay that way once elected.

  4. Winston 2013.03.17

    Stephanie, Brendan, and Matt would all make great Senators, but only Stephanie can hold the seat for the Dems in 2014.

  5. Rorschach 2013.03.17

    Varilek is a nice guy. And he took one for the team in 2012. But I don't think he has much upside potential in another race for House, and especially in a senate race against Rounds. I see Matt Varilek as a solid cog in the Democratic DC machine. The question is: Which patronage/staff job will Varilek get if Tim Johnson exits the scene?

    Someone like Jason Frerichs would be an interesting candidate for congress, or governor. But he's not ready for those races yet. Maybe School & Public Lands or PUC for him in 2014.

    Nancy Turbak Berry would make a great congresswoman or senator, but not sure she's interested in running.

  6. Stan Gibilisco 2013.03.17

    I want to see SHS vs. Rounds for Senate.

    Sort of like Morris vs. Smoltz in the 1991 World Series Game 7 ...

    ... I'd pay to see the debates ...

    ... and I might actually cross over and vote for SHS.

    If SHS ran against anyone else I would vote for her without hesitation.

    Something for a Republican to say, no?

  7. LK 2013.03.17


    Be careful! Bob Ellis and Sibby and the rest of the rest of the Republican Inquisition Committee will brand you with the mark of the RINO and condemned you to walk the wastelands for the rest of your natural life.

  8. SBullets 2013.03.17

    Varilek has proven he can compete, but he does not appeal to the electorate. I'd love to see SHS run for Gov and Brendan take a run at the Senate. Only leaves out the House race which could be interesting if Noem runs for the Senate. I like Frerichs. He has proven to be a leader in the State Senate, passing Democratic bills for Veterans in a very Republican legislature.

    Nancy would be great, but she won't run.

  9. Les 2013.03.17

    Barring a GOP suicide in SD, you Dems have one opportunity, and you helped spoil her in 2010. Lead on.

  10. Jana 2013.03.17

    Point well taken Les. Although I have to say that I am encouraged by the success and direction of the national GOP.

    What moderate sane person couldn't have watched CPAC and been inspired.

    Calling voters "stupid and lazy" was a stroke of genius and then reversing the will of the voters in the "Death Star" they call Pierre was cunningly clever and evil.

    Les, how many people wish that they had their vote back from 2010 and the Tea Party fever that seemed to grip normally rational people?

  11. Vincent Gormley 2013.03.18

    May I remind you that SHS not only voted against the ACA but against the rule. She also voted against Clean Energy and lied about South Dakotans wanting the Bush tax cuts extended. No stop listening to RINO's and Conservative pundits and bloggers. Matt Varilek would be a great choice.

    I would support him and volunteer. I know Matt he won't change. He listens something Republicans do not do at all.

  12. mike 2013.03.18

    Varilek ran a decent campaign. The problem was that reporters and other started to believe he had a chance when he never did. He vastly out performed any expectations I had. Noem did much worse in her reelection campaign than Stephanie, Thune or Johnson. Varilek deserves credit for that.

  13. mike 2013.03.18

    My parents were contacted about whether or not they would support Stephanie for Senate. They made it sound like that was all the call was about.

  14. G-Man 2013.03.18

    You are going to need the Independents that Stephanie relied on to win in 2004, 2006, and 2008. I'm Independent and I support Stephanie. If the Democrats were to choose Varilek or Johnson, I will leave the spot on my ballot blank. I will only support Herseth-Sandlin.

  15. G-Man 2013.03.18

    Johnson will not secure the Independent vote.

  16. G-Man 2013.03.18

    Politics as you know is a fine art of convincing other people. You need to make the sale. Making the sale is tricky. Today, elections rest on the decision of the "swing" or "Independent" voter. If you make voters, especially the growing Independent base, feel like outsiders because they perceive you to be condescending, they will become outsiders and take you down either through supporting your opponent or not voting. I know others have responded in the past on this blogsite that they don't care for "this view" that I'm sharing. But, I'm here to tell you that "this view" is how it goes (right or wrong).

  17. G-Man 2013.03.18

    Winston is correct; Stephanie is the ONLY one who can hold the Seat for the Democrats in 2014. Stephanie knows how to court the Independent voter because she is not extreme. When I say "court" she not only fights to get their vote, she is sincere in representing their interests as she has proven by her voting record in Congress. She is the most reasonable and level-headed leader the state has ever seen since the late Republican Governor George Mickelson. Her voting record shows that her views are the closest to the widest range of voters throughout South Dakota. Our Congressional Delegation needs her back to counter the extreme right-wing in the state, balance our political interests WITHOUT an extreme left-wing candidate, which South Dakota voters are not going to approve of what so ever.

  18. mike 2013.03.18

    I'm with G-Man in regards to Stephanie being the only Dem who can defeat Mike Rounds in a Senate race.

    This is not a knock on Brendan Johnson other than the fact that he could be defined by Rounds much easier because he has not yet defined himself to the voters. Rounds plays on many of the same strengths as Stephanie when it comes to being the nice guy/gal, get along, make our state better stuff. Plus he's a Republican so he has an advantage off the bat.

    Brendan could give Kristi a strong challenge and probably beat her because I still don't believe that she has established that positive emotional connection with voters like so many of our states past and current giants. Even today she has tweeted out another tirade about what is wrong with DC instead of talking about a sollution.

    Brendan Johnson has a serious shot at being the next congressman of SD. Stephanie has a slightly less chance of being the next senator than Mike Rounds but Brendan Johnson has essentially no chance.

    Matt Varilek would make a good candidate for school and public lands or Secretary of State.

  19. Douglas Wiken 2013.03.18

    My stale perspective on Stephanie:
    Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

  20. G-Man 2013.03.18

    The question will come down to this: how bad do the Democrats want to keep Tim Johnson's Senate Seat in 2014? The answer lies in how wise they choose their candidate to replace him. If they want this bad enough, well, then I've given the advice from an Independent Voter perspective. If the Democrats choose an unkown, slightly too much to the left candidate, then, Mike Rounds will replace Tim Johnson.

  21. LK 2013.03.18

    I think I have voted for SHS in every general election in which she has been on the ballot. I probably will vote for her against Rounds in a Senate race if the process shakes out that way

    That being said, I'm at a loss to understand why she is being considered some sort of super-politician. She lost to Kristi Noem in Noem's first general statewide race. Can someone name me a single piece of legislation Noem guided through the legislature?

    I know SD Dems shot themselves in the foot in 2010, but an incumbent running against an unknown should be able to survive some internal sniping, especially if the politician is the star SHS is being made out to be.

    South Democrats need to be honest with themselves. They are dramatically outnumbered by Republicans. Their best candidates have flaws that Republican voters won't forgive if the candidate has (D) following his or her name. The Republican voters have a history of forgiving those same flaws if the candidate has an (R) after his or her name.

    Assuming Tim Johnson retires, the Dems are sending people who have lost, sometimes badly, against a slate that won their last election with 55% or more.

    It's going to be a tough slog for any one of them and proclaiming any of them the "only" isn't going to help anyone's cause.

    I really hope I can type a positive comment soon. I'm beginning to depress myself.

  22. Rorschach 2013.03.18

    Aside from Douglas Wiken, a Democrat who apparently favors Noem over a moderate Democrat, we all seem to agree that Stephanie is the strongest Democratic candidate for whichever race she chooses. We all seem to agree that she won't choose a house race. We all seem to agree that if Brendan runs, his best bet is the House.

    I really don't envision Matt Varilek as a candidate again. I like him. But his candidacy was propped up by the Tim Johnson campaign that gave him enough money to look legitimate and to wage the campaign. Without the Tim Johnson help his campaign would have looked a lot like Joel Dykstra's 2008 run. I doubt if Varilek could now turn to a race for a statewide office in Pierre because he hasn't had anything to do with state government. You can't plug just anyone into any race - especially on the Democratic side - and hope to win. But the way Democrats have struggled to fill slots in the ticket, Varilek would probably be welcome for one of those slots. He just wouldn't have much of a chance to win. If he wants to win, he could run for the legislature. But then he'd have to give up his well paid federal job for a poorly paid seasonal gig, and who knows what for the rest of the year.

    So where were we? Brendan for House and Stephanie for Governor or Senator.

  23. mike 2013.03.18

    Larry you makes some wise points about Stephanie not being a super politician. I agree. She was a lazy campaigner and aloof from the people of this state (not just the left) and she didn't work hard at raising money and she didn't work hard at building relationships. She ran campaigns (other than her initial 2002 campaign against Janklow and her 2004 campaigns) at 20,000 ft. She had it easy and put herself on cruise control. Maybe that's because she was the heir to a family dynasty where the grunt work was already put in for her over the past 50 years by her grandfather (governor), grandmother (SoS) and father (legislator and very legit governor candidate). Stephanie didn't have to earn peoples respect and friendship the old fashioned way like Janklow, Thune, Daschle, McGovern, Tim Johnson, Mike Rounds or Dennis Daugaard. She had it because she'd been built up to be a future political star since her earliest memories.

    When times were good for Stephanie times were really good. When the bottom unexpectedly fell out in a huge anti Dem year all of those neglected relationships with constituents and reporters couldn't be established in a few months. The Democratic base was not their to rally around her in an organized way like they should have been. She neglected her network and neglected her infrastructure. She didn't hardly campaign in 2010. I don't remember seeing her in the state much. When she was laughed at during Dakotafest in 2009 she decided she didn't want to do anymore public appearances and it cost her big time because she started to act privileged.

    I know you are wondering what's good about Stephanie but it's simple. The people of South Dakota still like her. And they like her a lot. A Senate race will provide the money to buy her infrastructure that a house race won't. All of the sins of the past will be forgiven by the incredible amounts of money she will have. That money will erase her past flaws if she works hard at retail politics and healing some frayed relationships.

    What impresses me so much about Brendan Johnson is that the sky is the limit for him. He has all the talents of Stephanie but he hasn't built up his identity with voters yet. He has even more talents than Stephanie when it comes to building a team of people and relationships with his constituents. For some reason all of the advantages he inherited through his geneology didn't cause him to take the easy route like Stephanie. Brendan has taken all of the fortunes his father has given him and also worked to build relationships like Daschle, Johnson, Thune and Rounds.

    If Johnson can get a foothold in politics by winning a statewide race then he will turn out to be a more fantastic politician long term than Stephanie but I don't think he has established his identity with the voters at this state to go toe to toe with Mike Rounds. Brendan's greatest strength is that he's not above the grunt work and making his own way.

    Noem is someone who is acting like Herseth. She took the easy way in 2012 and it's not going to help her when the bottom falls out against a talent like Brendan Johnson.

  24. larry kurtz 2013.03.18

    LK is not larry: my absence from this thread was intentional.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.18

    (LK, you're giving larry kurtz a good name. it might be time to add a middle initial! Or maybe post by your blog handle, Displaced Plainsman? Or (deep breath, everyone!) maybe even the real name?)

  26. Rorschach 2013.03.18

    Your comments are on target for the most part, Mike. Stephanie did coast in her last term. Maybe it's because she had a young child and she was spread too thin. I don't know.

    But Brendan has been coasting too. He still has a lot of work to build relationships. As US Attorney he has necessarily been out of the political scene. He has the name his father built for him, but ask any Democratic legislator or anyone else for that matter what Brendan has done for them and the answer will unanimously be "nothing." I know a lot of politicians, and I honestly can't think of one he or his spouse has ever donated money to or done anything else for. What he did do in politics was all 4+ years ago and mostly for his father. On the other hand, I can name many politicians Stephanie has helped with their campaigns.

    Mike, you wrote: "For some reason all of the advantages [Brendan] inherited through his geneology didn't cause him to take the easy route like Stephanie." This is where you are wrong. So far, Mike, Stephanie has done all the work, and Brendan has taken the easy route walking through doors others opened for him. Stephanie opened her own doors by putting her name on the ballot 6 times, and helping other candidates along the way.

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.19

    The comments about coasting and cruise control take me back to the original point: run Varilek for Senate. He did the work in 2012; he'd be most ready to do more of that work in 2014, with the advantage of learning directly from whatever mistakes he finds he made. I agree with R that he'd be less able to pivot to a campaign for a Pierre office... which is all the more reason on our fantasy football rosters to write him into the Senate slot and put SHS or Johnson in the Gov's race.

    ...or what about this: might Brendan Johnson be ideally suited to take the Attorney General's position out of Republican hands? Might that be the political job for which he is currently most qualified? How about this roster:
    —Senate: Varilek
    —House: Hunhoff
    —Governor: SHS
    —AG: B. Johnson

  28. G-Man 2013.03.19

    I will only support Stephanie for the Senate.

  29. Les 2013.03.19

    Purty tuff for a loser to beat a winner, and Rounds hasn't lost yet GMan.
    You Dems are never going to have a functional party in SD unless you build a foundation. Y'all want to start at the top. I doubt Steph could easily make governor but as her past support shows, she would build your party from there.
    If you can't even get a consensus here, how are you going to get your 38% to put a two party system back into our state government? She is your only hope as she draws indys, moderates and maybe even Corey comes back into the fold!? ;)

    As a politician, she's not at the top of the heap, but she's damn sure been the best congressional rep I've dealt with, hands down. And no Corey, I won't vote for her to help put a MattyV in office down the road or screw the little chances the National GOP has of at least morphing into something I could agree with.
    I feel for LK, I'm having a heck of a time with a positive attitude and it includes both parties.

  30. G-Man 2013.03.19

    If she decides to run, Stephanie will defeat Mike Rounds. I have no doubts about that.

  31. LK 2013.03.19

    Missed some of last night's posts.

    I'll take the name thing under advisement.

    I've often confused my own comments with Larry's. : ) I hope I haven't hurt his reputation

    Les, I appreciate the empathy. I agree that both parties need help. It's just that SD politics is so dominated by the Republicans that I seem to look for Dem alternatives.

  32. G-Man 2013.03.19

    Politics goes in phases if you look back at history. The Republicans dominate for awhile then they sputter out, then they dominate for awhile then they sputter out. Remember when South Dakota in the 1970's and how the McGovern-Kneip-Abourezk Democratic Coalition came to be? There will be another one of those periods eventually. I've lived long enough to see that the pendelum always swings back and forth.

  33. Les 2013.03.19

    LOL, I remember the 70's, at least some of them GMan. Where is your McGovern, Kneip or Abourezk of the moment? Tim and Stephanie are all you have and Tim bless his heart is used up. Forty year memories mean a 50-55 year old body to spark that field.
    Your Dem family is so infused into our GOP you are diluted.
    Steph couldn't beat Noem, tell me how she's going to beat a war chest and the talent Mike has running his show. That's one bet I'd be willing to put a bunch of money on. Now you could run one of those Rhinos in the primary and bloody him a bit, but they are too comfortable in the system and would lose their cred.
    LK, there is nothing wrong with a balanced two party system. As well, when a gal like Herseth goes to DC and represents all of us to the degree she can, you don't cut your nose off to spite your face because she voted against ACA.

  34. Jana 2013.03.19

    Les, if I may offer a thought.

    The 60's and 70's were marked with a huge distrust of the GOP. Nixon, war, the economy.

    (While wholly unrelated, I think disco should be mentioned...seriously...disco? Talk about moral decay.)

    McGovern, Kneip or Abourezk were men that were born by the times to lead. National events that influenced South Dakotans and South Dakota politics.

    Keep in mind, the GOP had lost an entire segment of the population. Does that remind you of anything happening today?

    The GOP's mouth piece was Archie Bunker and the very "serious" people were exposed for shallow self serving people they were by the economy, ethics and Vietnam.

    GOP policies had screwed up the economy so bad that the GOP brought in an ad person to come up with Ford's WIN (Whip Inflation Now) program. (where have we seen that?)

    I wasn't old enough to pay attention in the 60's and 70' I'll defer to people who may have been around to draw any parallels.

  35. LK 2013.03.20


    I don't recall ever voting against a cadidate because of a single vote. Like I said earlier, I think I voted for SHS every time she' s been on the ballot.

    Good point about the 70s. I was in high school and college for most of the decade, so I wasn't always paying attention to politics

  36. larry kurtz 2013.03.20

    Karl Gehrke just name-dropped Cory and Madville's Varilek post on Bill Janklow's idea of public radio!

  37. G-Man 2013.03.20

    The political pendulum always swings back and forth. I've lived long enough to see that nothing remains constant. Les, you can laugh all you want, but, we've both seen things come and go and yes the Republican dominance will not last forever.

  38. G-Man 2013.03.20

    ...And by the way, Les, I'm not in the "Dem Family." LOL Yep, you made a judgement call that is less than accurate.

  39. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.20

    Larry, cool! That explains the hearty statewide chortling I heard around lunchtime.

    No, seriously, what did Karl say? And how dismissively did his guests respond?

  40. larry kurtz 2013.03.20

    Both Denise Ross and Jonathan Ellis disputed Varilek's desire to get in the race but acknowledged that you might have talked to him more recently than they have.

  41. Les 2013.03.20

    Some good memories from your post Jana. Donna Summer was our disco queen from my days of the 70's in Mpls. Those disco lights and "Love to Love You Baby/I Feel Love" and an awesome lady leading us all into it.
    There are many factions in all parties Jana, are and have been. It is obvious by the flux on this thread alone that still exists and we are meant to stay confused by the results. You have a pretty good handle on it for a young un. With the right catastrophe we could be close to the tides turning in SD, but, we lead like a horse after a bucket of grain so I'm not betting on it.
    LK, the one vote Herseth conflict comes from the Dems aplenty on this blog upset because of ACA or God only knows what and not "you," because you had already stated a different view.
    GMan, you also stated above you are Indy and you brought into conversation a Dem family/clan/pack of leaders: McGovern, Kneip and Abourezk which I commented on. At least you can laugh, difference is, I was laughing at myself and you were laughing at me. Cool, I've never minded a good laugh even at my own expense. FYI, this was never about you GMan or LK as much as speaking to the core of this blog which I assume, maybe inaccurately is Dem. You've also lived in a different world than I if you believe SD has regularly flipped as that pendulum you speak of does, from GOP to Dem.

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