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The Morning After: A Dialogue with Larry Pressler

Well, that was unpleasant.

Let's begin this gray day with Independent candidate Larry Pressler's concession announcement, posted at 9 p.m. last night. As you read this letter, consider these two key questions:

  1. The Black Elk question: why do bad men and women grow fat while good men and women go lean?
  2. How do we dust ourselves off from defeat and re-engage with the electorate to help better candidates win next time?

We have lost the election. I have called Governor Rounds and congratulated him. I have also called Rick Weiland and Gordon Howie and congratulated them on a good campaign.

We may have lost this campaign at the polls today, but I feel that we have won by running to end the poisonous gridlock in Washington and incorporating South Dakota issues into the race [this quote and all subsequent from Larry Pressler, press release, 2014.11.04].

Pause there, Larry. You didn't win. We made no steps toward ending poisonous gridlock. Voters largely ignored issues and voted for party labels. We did not find the formula that helps your noble effort to talk policy come to the forefront of public discourse. The only people who won are some rather ill-spirited gloaters who must now shout to drown out their nagging consciences.

And I’m going to continue working on these issues with the Centrist Project and in my teaching in South Dakota Universities.

Now we're talking. Pressler comes out of political retirement and burns up his time and money just to get beaten up by both parties and their attack PACs. More than 80% of South Dakota voters spurn him. But Pressler doesn't go hide in a hole. He doesn't run away to Washington, D.C., or Paris. Instead of returning to Sciences Po and after-class coffee on the Left Bank, Pressler is going to teach in South Dakota (first class starts next week at University of Sioux Falls, Pressler tells me). Teaching will be an excellent way for Pressler to remain visible and relevant and spread his ideas about how democracy and government ought to work.

Pressler's engagement with the Centrist Project may also be helpful. No political change happens from one man shouting from the top of Lookout Mountain (see also, blogging!). Successful politicking is successful organizing. Change agents need a movement.

That said, the Centrist Project's inaugural year of movement didn't move much. They backed five candidates nationwide, including Pressler. They backed famous Independent Greg Orman in Kansas, too, and lost there, despite great media hype, to an aging creature of the Republican establishment. The Centrist Project's only "victory" came in Maine, where they seem to have had as much to do with moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins's re-election as my cousin had last weekend with helping Minnesota win by shouting "Skøl Vikings!"

When I began this journey nearly two years ago, one of my co-chairmen Don Frankenfeld of Rapid City and I sat down and decided that we would have a good, issues-oriented campaign, on a low-budget of individual contributors, but we’d offer the people of the state a positive, issues-oriented campaign. We did that.

Yes, you did that, Mr. Pressler, and I admire you for it. You and Frankenfeld and friends managed to draw 17% of the electorate with a tiny David campaign against two Goliaths on no budget. You can walk away from this election with an absolutely clean conscience.

But no budget, positivity, and issues, plus name recognition, nostalgia, and your 1929 John Deere D got you 17% and third place. How many more tractors does a guy like you need to pull 30% of Rounds voters and 30% of Weiland voters into your camp?

South Dakota has not been accustomed to U.S. Senate campaigns where there is very much issue debate. We have had some essentially uncontested U.S. Senate races, and frequently national politics has overridden local issues. I determined to issue one or two “local issues” press releases a week, which I have done. For example, last week, I issued a release on the need for a post-traumatic stress disorder center at the Hot Springs VA facility, since ten new centers have been authorized in the new VA bill. These are supposed to be located in serene areas, and Hot Springs certainly qualifies. I’ve also talked about better air service for South Dakota, and I’ve talked about a holocaust museum for Native Americans at Wounded Knee. I also raised several other local issues throughout our state on a weekly basis.

Yup. And South Dakotans mostly ignored those policy specifics and voted party label, image, and prejudice. We must not abandon issue debates; we must maintain faith that we can act as educators (Latin educere, to lead out) and get voters to really grapple with policy issues honestly and separately from their pop-culture fueled preconceptions. But we must also be ready to marshal all the other tools necessary to win: money, volunteers, get-out-the-vote, powerful rhetoric, and yes, negative advertising. (There is no moral failing using your opponent's name and the word "not" in the same sentence.)

In this campaign, we have enjoyed a number of wonderful endorsements from across the state, which have included the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the Rapid City Journal, the Native Sun News and my good friend Tim Giago, the Mitchell Daily Republic, Agent John Good of the FBI, the chief corruption fighter in the United States, Steve Hemmingsen, legendary KELO anchor of 30 years, and people such as Gene Abdallah and Don Frankenfeld, Kim Ames-Wright of the South Dakota Voice of Independents, and many, many others. Perhaps more emotionally significant was the deathbed endorsement of my lifetime friend the late Gerald One Feather of Pine Ridge, which was announced by his widow, Ingrid One Feather, who invited me to speak at his funeral.

The endorsements do represent a victory. Contrary to what this blog may occasionally suggest, South Dakota newspaper editors are not idiots. They are relatively educated people who read more about politics than the average buffalo. Among those well-informed voters, Pressler's message resonated. And it never hurts to have the press recognize you're the real deal.

But endorsements are only a spark, not the fire. Pressler's Indian endorsements showed an ability to connect across South Dakota's gaping racial divide. But Giago and One Feather didn't move the electoral needle much; in Shannon County, Weiland still swamped Pressler 10 to 1. Maybe that's more party label prejudice; maybe that's just superior get-out-the-vote by the opposition.

I want to thank the volunteer MVP of this campaign, my wife Harriet. She was with me every step of the way from helping drive to events, doing the campaign’s accounting, answering phones, and thanking so many of the small contributors.

What happened at the end of this campaign is exactly why we started this campaign. We were hit with a tsunami of negative ads from the Republican and Democratic Parties and their affiliates. More money was spent in the last week against me than was raised in my entire campaign.

Yup. The big guys will continue to bring big guns to the fight. Captain America can hide behind his shield all day, but eventually, if he's going to save the world, he's got to punch Red Skull in the kisser.

I thank all my supporters for their hard work, and look forward to continuing to work on the issues that I raised in my campaign in the future. I am very grateful to all my contributors. Had this race been decided by South Dakotans, we believe the outcome would have been different, but we were hit with a deluge of out-of-state negative ads [Larry Pressler, press release, 2014.11.04].

It may soothe our prairie sensibility to think that this election is someone else's fault, that we can blame outsiders and keep our fantasy of our superior moral rightness intact. But South Dakotans are responsible for this outcome, Larry. South Dakotans saw all those ads. South Dakotans chose to ignore your policy proposals. A majority of South Dakotans who bothered to vote picked a man who, as you told them repeatedly, will be weakened by his own corruption. Lots of outside groups spent lots of big money to tell South Dakotans to jump off the cliff, but South Dakotans chose to jump.

We need to get South Dakotans to stop making bad choices. Larry, your good intentions and good policies are important elements of the lesson plan we need to change South Dakota. But they aren't enough. Mike Rounds, Dick Wadhams, and an obstructionist, regressive Republican Party continue to grow fat while good South Dakotans go lean... or go away. South Dakotans keep rejecting good candidates and good policies that would do South Dakota much more concrete good than the slogans of self-reliance! and repeal! and down with Obama!

I am heartened to know, however, Mr. Pressler, that you will be sticking around South Dakota to help us figure out, gather, and use the additional tools we need to restore South Dakota common sense. I'm with you. Let's work together and make it happen.


  1. BlackHills76 2014.11.05

    This is the first time since 1963 that SD will not send at least one Democrat to Washington DC. Who exactly is the face of the Democratic Party in our State now since Tim Johnson is just about finished with his term?

    Funny thing is if our residents really believed their hardcore conservative beliefs there is no way the minimum wage increase should be running way ahead. That makes no sense to me.

  2. Lynn 2014.11.05

    I would be very curious what percentage of RV/Out of state voters voted for Phil Jenson. Robin Page worked her tail off in that campaign. Can the results be legally challenged with these RV/Out of state residents that seem to take advantage of loopholes our state is known for?

  3. mike from iowa 2014.11.05

    As I have said before,never give whitey wingnut an inch because thet will soon want everything. A few years ago Thune was nearly begging to be elected so South Dakota could have power from both sides of the aisle. Thune got his and all of a sudden,sharing wasn't the order of the day anymore. Wingnuts have it all and we know what can be expected of the party of obstruction and No.

  4. Lynn 2014.11.05

    Sorry wrong thread it should be under results. ^^^^

  5. Jenny 2014.11.05

    I'm trying to figure out why all the polls said Weiland and Rounds were in a much closer race. What's up with that?

  6. Tim 2014.11.05

    "And South Dakotans mostly ignored those policy specifics and voted party label, image, and prejudice."
    What does it say about the voters of SD when the deciding factors in elections is how much shit you can shovel at the other side? At one point, when Rick was making a run in the polls, the radio and teevee were suddenly flooded with the trash and lies Rounds ran on for the entire campaign, all of it has been proven as lies and twisted trash, but the uninformed SD voter went in and voted R anyway. I said the other day, even if it means the end of the world, SD voters would vote R anyway, and they did.
    In my opinion, we need to start today, beginning with pointing out every policy failure our single party rulers have and also point out how we would do it different. Hold them to the fire on everything they do and demand an explanation of what they were thinking.

  7. Tim 2014.11.05

    Well, the minority has spoken (the majority stayed home), now we have to live with it.

  8. oldguy 2014.11.05

    True Tim but of those that voted the R won and won big time. Today I am sad as it sure seems like South Dakota
    believes in one party control. I have always felt the best ideas come from solving a problem by looking at from all sides then deciding on a fix. Guess most people don't agree with me.

  9. John Hess 2014.11.05

    Low-income conservatives compare themselves to those closest to them not the Koch brothers. They detest seeing others "milk" benefits. That and opposing liberal views on abortion, gay marriage, etc keep them Republican. It's hard to love a Blue Dog but better to accept we can't elect a liberal here.

  10. Steve Sibson 2014.11.05

    "Robin Page worked her tail off in that campaign."

    Nationally it has been recognized that the Democrat's Neo-Marxist strategy to use women as victims did not work. Not even with many women.

    Second point, the GOP won because they moved to the left and conned pro-life and pro-gun folks into thinking they still support their causes. They don't.

  11. Thomas 2014.11.05

    I'm done! Before the election my party talked and talked. We argued internally and came up with delusional polls and false reasons to talk victory with second rate candidates. It's embarrassing to listen to Wismer on TV complain about her uphill battle against a political machine. Wismer had no business being the Democrat nominee of our once proud party of Richard Kneip and George McGovern. Our party is in shambles and it only became glaringly more obvious this election cycle. It's not easy to get excited about a has been, questionably effective, former senator and a never-was Democrat senate nominee. It's embarrassing to see the results where our party did not have a candidate on the ballot (in several races) and then complains about one party rule in South Dakota. I don't complain about SHS not wanting to run, who in their right mind would want to be the standard bearer of the would've, could've, should've party of South Dakota? But where can I go from here? I gave no party to fall back on.

  12. Thomas 2014.11.05


    According to the SOS, there was 52% voter turnout. So that is another Democrat whine that has no basis in fact. We need to get over this.

  13. JeniW 2014.11.05

    Thomas there are a lot of disappointed people, but if we let disappointments defeat us, we will never grow.

    Quit if you want to, that is your right, but I know a lot about disappointments. If I had let disappointments defeat me, I would have been dead a long time ago.

  14. jerry 2014.11.05

    I will have to agree on the fact that even with a republican controlled senate and house, the anti abortion league will have to just be pissed off for, well forever. This is a wedge issue that works each and every time for the republicans and when they get in power, nothing changes. The dumbass Democrats should take up the mantel as well and run on that, get elected and then blame republicans for not getting it done. That would be the ultimate in funny. Democrats should also arm themselves and be just as silly as the republicans regarding gun rights, as it is clear we are all armed to the teeth and that ain't gonna change unless the republicans take away your guns, which is entirely possible. Messaging people, that is the key. Message a position that you have no intention of holding and move on after November 4, all you have to do is look at history and you will see I am right. So now we need to find ourselves someone who can do just that, oh, I guess we did. This new Washington truly is the best Koch brothers money could buy. Capitalism rules, Democracy does not.

  15. Bill Fleming 2014.11.05

    Hey Cory, speaking of Mr. Pressler, where the heck is Winston? I hope he shows up. I have an inversely proportional virtual hug I wanna lay on him. LOL

  16. Lynn 2014.11.05

    Jerry are you saying The Dems should change their strategy so both parties are now competing for a race to idiocy? lol I have an idea what your saying. With how our state has supported education and now Round's promise to eliminate the Dept of Education maybe dumbing down messages will work for our future two class system of those that are connected and wealthy and those that are drones.

    I enjoy hunting but I won't miss the numerous cable TV 24 hour hunting channels I move out of SD.

  17. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.11.05

    Hate to disagree with you Cory, but more money is not the answer. When the money keeps increasing, those without money to have their voice heard, go unheard and the more money that come into the game, the less voice, even those who do contribute, have got.

    Senator Pressler said, "South Dakota has not been accustomed to U.S. Senate campaigns where there is very much issue debate."

    Apparently the answer is to have no debates. The guy who refused to debate, is the one who ended up with over 50% of the vote.

  18. W R Old Guy 2014.11.05

    This morning's RCJ has a number of comments from voters stating how they voted. Several stated they held their nose and voted for Rounds because he was the Republican candidate. They felt he was less than truthful on the EB-5 program and other claims but he is a Republican.

    There will be two more years of obstructionist politics in Washington. Obama is still the President and he can veto any bill. The override requires a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate. The Republicans do not have the 2/3 majority. Impeachment requires the Senate to conduct the trial and a 2/3 majority vote to convict. That wont happen. The Republicans are still trying to find a law firm to sue the President for failure to enforce the law. The first two hired have quit. Amendments to the Constitution require a 2/3 majority vote by both Houses of Congress and ratification by 2/3 of the states. I can't see a balanced budget amendment going anywhere.

    This may help the Democrats in 2016. There are 24 Senate Republicans up for reelection. The Democrats would need about 1/3 of them to take the Senate back and can run on the obstructionist policies of the Republicans.

    Rounds in a red state like South Dakota should have won with at least 60% of the votes. It looks like he got 51%. That is no mandate or vote of confidence.

  19. jerry 2014.11.05

    I am saying exactly that Lynn. The voters eat that stupid stuff up like a cheap buffet line. Down in Iowa, the winning senate candidate would not be interviewed by the media except for Fox News. She also claimed that the one case of Ebola in Texas was just an opinion and it worked for her. Here, Mike Rounds said we had thousands of jobs created by his corrupt EB-5 and even though he is under investigation by the FBI, voters "held their noses and voted him in". Talk about catering to the stupid in these states, but it is clear it works, need I go further?

    Nope, it does not matter what you are here as long as it is a republican. Democrats and Independents can do whatever they want to do, but the fact is we did not even run anyone against Thune. Think of that one for a minute. The only way to win is to win the same way they do, lie your ass off with an R by your name and then send your campaign money to states that support South Dakota's teat status. We cannot stand on our own here so we must find sister states to help hold us up so we can complain about it.

  20. bearcreekbat 2014.11.05

    I like W R Old Guy's take. With the Senate majority now in the hands of Republicans, any angst the voters have toward Congress will fall on their shoulders in 2016. And given the inability of Republicans to solve problems with useful legislation, that angst is likely to be large and nasty.

  21. mike from iowa 2014.11.05

    How did wingnuts keep congress,other than by gerrymandering? They haven't done a damn thing in 2 years except try to keep the economy bankrupt so Obama wouldn't have any signature accomplishments to brag about.

  22. Joseph g thompson 2014.11.05

    Nothing is going to change politically in South Dakota until progressives get over their " I know best and the rest of you are just to stupid to understand". What I understand is that the voters of South Dakota would rather take a chance that their Senator is a felon than vote for a progressive Democrat. As I have said many times before, the Democratic party in South Dakota will remain irrelevant until they start to reflect some of the values of the typical South Dakotan. Can't resist, thanks Mike from Iowa, for electing the Senator that put Republicans in the majority. Guess all the voters in Iowa a dumb too.

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.05

    Joseph! You're back! Nice to hear from you again. And nice to know we still totally disagree. Our success on the minimum wage vote shows we reflect South Dakota values better than you think (but there I go again, telling you I know better. Oh, my ceaseless arrogance! :-D ).

  24. Les 2014.11.05

    We had as close to that in SHS as SD will ever elect, Joseph. The progs ate her lunch. The Dems chances for anything in SD are gone for no earlier than 2018.

  25. Joseph g thompson 2014.11.05

    Minimum wage is hardly an issue just to Democrats, would guess many Republicans signed the petition and voted for the wage hike, but then voted straight Republican. One issue does not indicate any relevance to the political landscape. Would very much like to see the Democratic party become a real political party in South Dakota. One party government forever is not good. Sad that the party could not convince SHS to run against Rounds. Think she would have beat him hands down, but then the party didn't want a South Dakota Democrat they wanted one that was to the left of the President. You take over leadership of the Dems in SD and you and I can have a conversation.

  26. Jenny 2014.11.05

    Really, Joseph? I never hear the GOP talk about the benefits of a minimum wage increase except how bad it will be for business. Both Daugaard and Rounds made statments being against it. Come on, give the Dems some credit for this one.

  27. grainofsalt 2014.11.05

    Joseph, voters voted to raise the minimum wage. Voters voted to expand patient access to all willing doctors. Those are Democratic values, not Republican. So we bought the democratic ideas and voted for the enemies of the ideas we supported. Brilliant.

  28. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.05

    How many times must it be said that SHS was not a candidate this election cycle nor the last one. She apparently chose to retire from politics.
    The "what ifs" about SHS are pointless.

  29. Joseph g thompson 2014.11.05

    You are right Mr Cornelius,
    SHS what ifs are pointless, as is the Democratic party in SD until they have more candidates like former Representative Sandlin.

  30. Roger Cornelius 2014.11.05

    Until SHS announces here candidacy for elected office any reference to her is irrelevant.

    It should be noted that South Dakota Democrats may also be irrelevant, what we are moving closer and closer to in South Dakota is a Republican dictatorship and socialism that serves only the wealthy Republicans in this state.

  31. Jane 2014.11.05

    Pressler was a tool. The independants diluted the bottom line. The corruption of EB-5 needs to see the due process of law. These candidates tried to use it in debate, but that is all. Post election let's see who really has passion for the truth and this state.

  32. 96Tears 2014.11.05

    If South Dakota is to ever realize the possibility of a victory by a statewide independent candidate, it will never do so without a healthy two-party system first. I appreciate and applaud the fine people who meant well by fielding folks like Larry Pressler, Mike Myers, Gordon Howie and the third party candidates. But as long as there is a Democratic Party, there will always be a 30 percent base or more of non-Republicans who will support their organized party. They view third party and independent candidates as egocentric interlopers who have an agenda which doesn't include them. In a word: Kooks.

    This year, the Pressler candidacy acted as a distraction keeping the focus away from the two-person showdown that had the only shot at keeping amoral Mike Rounds from grabbing Sen. Tim Johnson's Senate seat. Mathematically, Larry -- bless his soul -- never had a shot despite his name identification. He joins the ranks of spoilers who have ruined elections againstdeeply flawed but well-heeled creeps like Rounds or George W. Bush.

    I have faith that the wheels of justice will catch up with Rounds and his cronies involved in criminal enterprises. We had a truly great statesman in Rick Weiland who would have made us all proud in the Senate. Honestly, I would have been happy if Pressler won if he mathematically had a better chance than Weiland to win ... but he never did.

    The 2014 election will prove to be a hard lesson for the S.D. Democratic Party which failed to find an attorney general candidate to keep Marty Jackley pinned down during the Rounds Racketeering Scam reports and investigations. The party also failed to run a significant statehouse campaign operation with sufficient legislative candidates to challenge the Republicans and hold them up to public scrutiny. No wonder Sen. Tidemann thought he could get away with stonewalling a real investigation of the state's biggest and ugliest political scandal. Other than the terrible recruitment failures, the state party did a good job hiring Pat Duffy to carry the message of malfeasance to the press and, if the press was doing its job, to the public.

    Next time somebody thinks it's cool to retread a dinosaur like Pressler and put him on the campaign trail, they had better think out the mathematics of getting enough votes to win. I don't care how many endorsements from has-been TV anchors such a candidate gets, it doesn't make the numbers work to win. A vote for Pressler was a waste, and that helped Mike Rounds when a real challenger with a more realistic chance needed the help.

    Let's do a better, smarter job next time, okay? If you want to break up the criminal grip of the SDGOP on Pierre, help build a stronger Democratic Party threat. Or just stay out of the way.

  33. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.06

    96, many good points, but how does Pressler go down in history as a spolier when Rounds got a simple majority?

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