70-plus people dropped by the "Constitution Rally" held by the South Dakota Citizens for Liberty (that's the local Tea Party) at Memorial Park in Rapid City yesterday afternoon... including me. Just another day hanging out with right-wing radicals in South Dakota....
Rep. Stace Nelson was the first speaker of the event. He gave his standard stump speech—country boy and highway patrolman's son turned Marine cop/prosecutor turned reluctant politician; Christian, conservative, Republican, in that order;
Rep. Nelson held out to his Tea Party adherents this endorsement of non-partisanship:
I went to all the campaign schools and I listened to what they had to say on how to run for office. And they tell you don't tell people where you stand on the issues. Don't talk about religion. Give vague statements that, hey, you're a good guy, yadda yadda yadda, you should vote for me. And only knock on those good Republican doors.
Well, I never served overseas all those years as a partisan. I served my fellow South Dakotans and Americans without regard to their party affiliation. And I'll be doggoned if I was going to ask them to serve them as a representative and become all of a sudden worried about what the party wants [Rep. Stace Nelson, speech to Tea Party rally, Rapid City, SD, 2013.05.04].
As Rep. Nelson railed against omnibus bills and the lack of fealty among his SDGOP leaders to the Republican platform, his youngest daughter worked the crowd, handing out her dad's pens and business cards. His friend and fellow challenger of the GOP status quo Daniel Willard followed with Nelson bumper stickers.
Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) took the show further into campaign mode. He arrived late and came to the podium to express his regrets for missing his ally Nelson's speech, which he called "the most important speech of today." But politically speaking, Russell's was the most important. He got a little distracted, as Tea Partiers are wont to do, with abstractions and high-sounding Revolutionary irrelevancies as he waved his copy of the Federalist Papers (which he almost forgot at the podium when he finished). But then he turned his speech to what every faintly attentive observer should characterize as the first public "Stace Nelson for Senate" campaign speeches of the 2014 primary season.
Rep. Russell threw numerous rhetorical punches at declared GOP Senate candidate M. Michael Rounds. He reminded this Tea Party Audience that as Governor, Mike Rounds twisted arms to get the Legislature to reverse itself and pass the current onerous driver's license requirements to satisfy the federal government (a Tea Party trifecta: bureaucracy, federal power, and ID!). He tied Rounds to ObamaCare. He lambasted Rounds's fiscal policy, saying he coasted on the legacy of fiscal prudence left him by Governors Janklow and Mickelson, spent more money than the state took in in seven of his eight years in office, and left the state with a $127 million deficit. He called Rounds a "collaborator" (that's a Tea Party code word, playing to the assumption that something like Nazis have taken over the country and that the folks in the audience are members of the Resistance) and advocated Nelson's candidacy for Senate:
Our country is on the precipice of bankruptcy because of poor policy and going along to get along. We do not need to send another collaborator to Washington DC. We need a fixer. We need somebody like a Ted Cruz, or maybe a Stace Nelson [Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs, speech to Tea Party rally, Rapid City, SD, 2013.05.04].
(The applause to that campaign cry was so strong it knocked my camera out of alignment. Sorry about that!)
Playing again to the Tea Party's historical delusions of grandeur, Rep. Russell noted that the Tea Party crowd at this rally outnumbered the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, and five them were tortured and killed (now there's a recruitment pitch). More relevantly, Rep. Russell noted that there nearly as many people came to hear Rep. Stace Nelson yesterday as came to hear Governor Dennis Daugaard at the previous night's Custer County GOP dinner. (Yeah, but Lance, the people celebrating Old West Republican values at Sylvan Lake Friday wrote bigger checks.)
Nelson hasn't updated the banner on his website to read "Nelson for U.S. Senate" yet. But the tenor of the Nelson-Russell Tea Party tandem tells me the odds of that declaration are higher than 50%.