Last updated on 2013.09.04
2008 GOP primary Senate candidate Sam Kephart has a lot to say about this year's primary race. After getting his advice on how much money it takes to run a serious campaign (million, million-five, says Kephart), I asked the former candidate and current gadfly what he'd do if he were running in the already crowded 2014 field and what those candidates can learn from that last big Senate primary in South Dakota.
Heidelberger: If you were running in the 2014 GOP Senate primary, what would you do differently from your 2008 campaign?
Kephart: First off, I wouldn’t run in this cycle without having one or more “Daddy Warbucks” behind me... period!
I would spend much more time in the I-29 corridor doing retail politics, I’d hire Bill Hillsman to put together my media campaign, and I‘d hire the David Winston Group, out of D.C., to assist me in polishing my messaging and platform.
[CAH note: Hillsman helped Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura campaign in Minnesota. He also put together this blunt ad with Vikings punter Chris Kluwe in opposition to the gay-marriage ban Minnesotans defeated last year. He's been working mostly for Dems, so Stace Nelson might have a tough time hiring him.]
I’d do much more hard sell, yet fair, politics; soft sell and/or the thoughtful approach don’t really work for the masses of voters who don’t know you and won’t take the time to study the issues.
Many voters are, in my opinion, “fatally ignorant” of the reality that’s manipulating them; an unknown candidate must find a way to blast through that ignorance and indifference in a catchy, simple way that’s memorable.
I failed to do that in 2008, primarily due to the lack of cash to fund a proper media blitz.
Heidelberger: What can Mike Rounds learn from the 2008 primary to protect his GOP frontrunner status?
Kephart: Mike Rounds in 2013-2014 is a much more engaging personality and is more naturally charismatic than Joel Dykstra was back in 2007-2008.
If I’m Mike Rounds, I’d be doing everything I could, action-wise, not in words, to keep affirming and EARNING the public perception of my inevitability as the “chosen candidate” and presumptive winner in the minds of the voters.
However, there’s also a palpable risk here; there seems to be a certain smugness or arrogance that the likely winner takes on as the primary season matures. Joel Dykstra certainly exhibited that attitude that on some occasions.
I hope Rounds is both seemly and savvy enough NOT to fall into that trap. It really quietly pisses-off the folks who notice it and it could disaffect his supporters, because they expect some degree of respect and fair play for the competitors in the field during the campaign.
Heidelberger: What can challengers learn from the 2008 primary to help them upset Rounds?
Kephart: If I were running against Mike this year, I would directly, clearly, and repeatedly challenge his statement, which was the “teaser” headline of a recent fundraising letter I received, that he wants folks to “help me change Washington”.
I like Mike personally and I seriously respect how he’s successfully fought his way up the political ladder, but that phrase, “help me change Washington”, is the biggest, most inauthentic promise he’s ever put his name behind.
Mike, whether you love him or hate him is an accomplished and “certified” MASTER of inside political dealing.
No, I’m absolutely NOT accusing Mike Rounds of doing anything illegal. [CAH: That emphasis is in Kephart's original response.]
However, Mike has completely figured out, and has refined to a high art, how government can and does work with big business, how to capitalize on that nexus, and how to monetize the resulting symbiotic relationships.
Part of me deeply admires Mike’s street-smart abilities here, but morally I find it repugnant; it goes against my sense of fair play for Main Street and the “little guy.” But then again, what’s “fair” in politics? It’s a blood sport and, demonstrably, I was too damn naive, high-minded, and well-intended to figure that out ahead of time :(
Mike Rounds has many clear strengths and some substantial administrative experience, but any attempt on his part to position himself as an “outsider” championing the “little guy” or Main Street against Washington and the Feds is just plain bull---- and laughable.
Mike’s messaging folks need to go back to the drawing board and come up with something more believable. That particular headline and tagline is pure, unadulterated fantasy and denial of what’s so on their part.
Mike Rounds has some well-established, significant, relatively easy-to-prove vulnerabilities from his operating as an “insider” during his 8 years as Governor.
Those vulnerabilities could be made into a big, sticky negative by the right creative team, given the current American zeitgeist and emerging awareness of the corporate kleptocracy that has it’s boot on our collective necks. However, those Rounds vulnerabilities would need to be exploited surgically, competently, cleverly, and repeatedly by his opponents; I doubt they will be. There just isn’t the deep political savvy here to pull it off.
After he got elected, it took 3 or 4 years before John Thune got seduced by the power structure in D.C., became a protege of Senator John McCain, and got ‘hard-wired’ into the Beltway’s Machiavellian deals.
Mike, Rounds, if elected, will be going to D.C. already “LFB”... looking for business.