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Poll Finds Noem-Rounds Primary Would Be Close; GOP Spinster in Denial

Public Policy Polling offers some support to the Displaced Plainsman's thesis that the SDGOP propaganda machine is hyping a possible 2014 Democratic primary battle for Senator Tim Johnson's seat to keep our attention away from the real party-wrecker that could be coming: a GOP primary between declared GOP Senate candidate M. Michael Rounds and the ever-ambitious Congresswoman Kristi Noem.

Public Policy Polling talks to South Dakotans and finds Noem and Rounds neck-and-neck:

South Dakota might be next on the list of states where Republicans have a bruising Senate primary. Our first look at the state for 2014 finds Mike Rounds and Kristi Noem closely locked in a hypothetical contest, with Rounds leading just 43/39. Noem's favorability rating with GOP voters at 71/18 is slightly better than Rounds' 67/17 [Tom Jensen, "South Dakota Senate Poll," Public Policy Polling, 2013.03.21].

That's Jensen's lead paragraph, suggesting that's the most significant information to draw from this poll. Jensen notes the Dem numbers, finding Stephanie Herseth Sandlin would trounce Brendan Johnson in a primary and be competitive with either Noem or Rounds. Jensen concludes thus:

South Dakota provides a good opportunity for Republicans in 2014 but these numbers suggest that it won't be the end of the world for Democrats if Johnson ends up deciding to retire, given Herseth Sandlin's popularity, and the potential for a highly divisive GOP primary that could give Democrats an opportunity to replicate some of their other red state wins over the last few election cycles [Jensen, 2013.03.21].

David Montgomery goes crazy with the crosstabs, but here's the short form: SHS could beat Noem or Rounds, and that's before those GOP contenders land any punches on each other. Given their tight poll numbers, Noem and Rounds would have to fight hard to win. Noem went negative right out of the gate last year against the much less well-funded Varilek campaign; she'd fire even bigger guns against the Rounds money machine. Rounds would not be able to coast in nice-guy mode as he did in 2002; he'd have to fight back. Whoever would win that GOP primary would come out beat up, with some alienated GOP voters who would be comfortable voting for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin again.

And what is the Republican spin machine's headline? "Poll Says US Senate Seat Belongs to the GOP, and Brendan Can't Win," bleats Dakota War College:

Lots of things within the margin of error here, but any way you slice it, it looks good for the GOP, and extremely bleak for the Dems [Pat Powers, "Poll Says US Senate Seat Belongs to the GOP, and Brendan Can't Win," Dakota War College, 2013.03.21].

Wow—not just ignoring, but completely contradicting the pollster's own conclusion! It must be hard to construct one's own special reality every day. It must be even harder to trot that fantasy out to the public, hoping people will buy that fantasy and ignore the trouble your own party faces. I'm a little busy, so if you all don't mind, I'll just stick with the facts and data as presented.

By the way, Public Policy Polling doesn't throw Matt Varilek into the mix. I've made my argument to include Varilek and his Washington experience in our Senate calculus, but if the Public Policy Polling hypotheticals come true and Noem leaves her House seat to run for Senate, I rewrite my fantasy football card: SHS for Senate, Varilek for House, Bernie Hunhoff for Governor, and Brendan Johnson for Attorney General.


  1. Nick Nemec 2013.03.22

    The Republican echo machine lives in their own special place where everything happens just as they predict, until it doesn't.

  2. larry kurtz 2013.03.22

    Even the earth haters aren't stupid enough to gamble on such a primary match-up. Noem may be ambitious but her weaknesses will keep her out of the Senate bid this cycle. The polling should help us prioritize our candidates rather than divide our base.

  3. TCMack 2013.03.22

    Reading cross tabs are key, they provide a better look at the information provided by the poll. Some key facts from the cross tabs that I saw that have not been reported were that 45% of Democrats are not sure on Brendan Johnson, and that Herseth-Sandlin had a 88% favorable rating from South Dakota Democrats. The take away from this is that if Brendan runs he needs to do a hard name recognition campaign to have a chance against Herseth-Sandlin, and Herseth-Sandlin needs to show that she is across the isle politician, and her victory over Rounds and Noem are possible.

    Yes that the Republican party has the advantage, but these polls are too close to say that this race is over now. I expect tons of money to be spent and negative campaigning.

    A key question what happens when a third party enters the race? That could hurt probably more the Republican Party instead of the Democratic Party.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.22

    Or better yet, Brandan shouldn't run against SHS. He and SHS should pick different offices so both can fight for Dems on the ballot in November.

  5. mike 2013.03.22

    Too bad they didn't poll the governor's race.

  6. mike 2013.03.22

    I have a hard time believing a Rounds Noem primary is that close.

  7. Archer 2013.03.22

    I think this poll has to be quite accurate. Go to the website and look at how the respondents voted for President, their party affiliation and their age distribution. All three match up very close to what the actual numbers are for SD.

  8. G-Man 2013.03.22

    I find it very telling that this "poll" shows Rounds is only 5 points ahead of Herseth. If she announces, this race becomes a dead-heat.

  9. G-Man 2013.03.22

    In fact, this "poll" also shows that Rounds can not break 50% when he is matched up against Herseth, another telling sign that this race will be a dead-heat if she jumps in.

  10. Rorschach 2013.03.22

    The fact that Brendan lacks name recognition isn't surprising. I have no doubt of these two things: 1) Brendan could beat Noem in a house race; and 2) Stephanie is the strongest candidate Democrats could run in 2014.

    I don't think Dems can win both the House and Senate seats in the same year. But they should try. I still prefer that Stephanie run for Governor. I'd like to see some polls on that.

  11. Charlie Johnson 2013.03.22

    Remember that in 1986, a democrat congressman won his first term in the US Senate and a Democrat state legislator name Johnson won a house seat. Two democrats can win both house and senate in the same year especially if that house candidate has a last name, Johnson.

  12. Rorschach 2013.03.22

    True, Charlie. But that was 6 years into a Republican presidency. It could happen 6 years into a Democratic presidency, but I just think that's unlikely in SD in 2014. Prove me wrong, I dare you.

  13. LK 2013.03.22


    Don't forget that 1986 featured the Abnor/Janklow primary. That was one of the most divisive elections in the nation that year.

    It's doubtful that the Republicans will be that divided again.

  14. Charlie Johnson 2013.03.22

    Two strong candidates running for different offices but on the same ticket can only help. To say that it can only be one or none down plays the real strength that comes from team work regardless of party.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.03.23

    I agree, Charlie. I want Brendan, Stephanie, Matt, and any other strong Dem feeling the urge to serve to see if there's a way to fill all the slots on the November ticket first before pitting themselves against each other. (Of course, that statement has Pat Powers declaring, against a wealth of past evidence, that I'm afraid of primaries and calling me a "mewling monket of malcontent.")

  16. mike 2013.03.23

    If Varilek could get 43% against Noem I believe Brendan Johnson could close that gap. Noem's favorable/unfavs are 49/42 in the poll. That's not great.

  17. mike 2013.03.23

    Noem and Rounds both have weaknesses that would be exposed in a primary. The way the SD media works is they ignore tough stories in favor of gossip and fluff pieces. A good hard look at Noem's record with zero accomplishments (has she passed anything that's been signed into law?) and rounds has weaknesses also but they tend to be on the right rather than the middle.

  18. Dougal 2013.03.23

    If you need to measure War College's political expertise, look no further than PP's incompetent management of Scott Munsterman’s governor primary campaign a few years ago. He had a perfectly good candidate who had a convincing record of achievement as mayor of Brookings and who was NOT a Pierre insider. The messaging and management of that campaign was negligent and ruinous. Want more evidence? His tenure at the Secretary of State’s office left behind the smelliest political scandal in the Statehouse since his conservative idol Ted Klaudt left Pierre for a cell in the State Penitentiary. Why would anyone take his insights seriously?

    As to this entertaining PPP poll, it is far, far too early to draw conclusions, other than popularity numbers which reflect realities on the day the poll was taken. Let me add those would be very shallow realities. Diving into crosstabs to determine winners of a primary is completely meaningless since the alleged candidates have done nothing to define themselves and their opponents in the context of a contest.

  19. G-Man 2013.03.23

    Once again: Mike Rounds can't break 50% in a poll match-up against Stephanie Herseth and he's only 5 points ahead. What does that tell you? That tells me this would be a close race in the making.

  20. larry kurtz 2013.03.28

    HB1215 relating to concealed carry in schools, fails. The vote was 18-27. #NDLeg RT @NSmithReports

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