So what happened? The road to the AG Nomination.

The Republican nomination for Attorney General was one of the more interesting convention fights that have taken place over the past decade, and while some of it unfolded out in the field, just like a good thriller (or horror movie) some of the best twists were saved until the end.

The Fitzgerald Pre-Convention Strategy – Conventional  

Many people who are outside the party structure might not be aware that this was not Fitzgerald’s first rodeo, and he had unsuccessfully attempted to run at convention in the 1990’s.

Many of the techniques used then are the same as used now. And, the gruff Fitzgerald checked the boxes.

Fitzgerald’s campaign relied on the tried and true GOP Constitutional candidate nomination strategy of the Lincoln Day Dinner Circuit (aka the Rubber Chicken Circuit, describing the many mass-cooked dinner banquets entrees).  You throw an odd appearance or two in via a GOP luncheon or monthly meeting, and you’ve got a campaign. Without fail, that’s how they all do it, and have for time immemorial.

In the past couple of cycles, candidates have introduced postcards as a reminder to delegates that they were still out there, and Fitzgerald was no different, sending a few to delegates. There was also posting on social media, etc.

Leading into convention, he did go out and meet and talk with delegates, again, part of conventional strategy. The campaign also added in SMS messaging, which didn’t always work well.  They texted my wife a couple of times, thinking it was my number. She didn’t appreciate that.

It was a rote and conventional strategy, which the campaign executed. As all the boxes were checked, the campaign moved to Pierre.

The Russell Pre-Convention Strategy – Alliances and Air War

As the most seasoned politico in the race for Attorney General, Lance Russell knew he could not do it alone, so he brought in self-styled political consultant Jordan Mason to run his campaign operation allowing him the time he needed to work, as well as perform the duties of his office in the South Dakota State Senate.

During the period of time that Mason was working for Russell, He was also working for the Mickelson ballot measures, Shantel Krebs, Neap Tapio (for a short while), and anyone else he could possibly get his hands into, especially those aligned with the more ultra-conservative elements of the Republican party. There is also a close association with the South Dakota Gun Owners/National Association of Gun Rights groups.

The Ultra-Conservative association came to bear in the Russell Campaign, especially that close association with the Gun Owners/NAGR, which poured over 10K into the Russell Campaign via contributions and in-kind donations.

From those alliances came a massive air-war strategy in the campaign where delegates were pounded with mailing after mailing after mailing. Some might come from Lance himself. Some from the National Association of Gun Rights, some from the “Republican Direction PAC,” and on and on and on.

The campaign (or a related entity) was also organizing to put their preferred and supportive delegates in county precinct positions, again through an organized mail war. The problem with that was that all campaigns check the box of seeking preferential placement of delegates favorable to them.

With the mailing blasts landing until the final hours of the campaign, and with their people in place, they marched towards the GOP Convention in Pierre.

The Ravnsborg Pre-Convention Strategy- An Invasion of One

During his campaign addresses at convention, Jason Ravnsborg reminded delegates that he’d been to every county twice. Many would view that as a vast understatement, as Jason Ravnsborg has been a constant fixture at nearly every County GOP event for several years now.

He’s manned the GOP State Fair Booth, he’s been at nearly every rally, event, or gathering of more than 5 or six Republicans during all that time, whether he’s been talking about ballot measures, or his own candidacy in the more recent months.

With the same tireless and methodical method Ravnsborg used to attend everything, while all candidates were trying to predictably collect the blessings of States Attorney’s, Ravnsborg knew that group would largely be split, and went around it, quietly racking up the endorsements from a majority of the State’s respected county law enforcement officers, the Sheriffs, springing that on his opponents, a fact he reminded them in two endorsement mailings, one coming via postcard, and one coming in a convention packet.

In almost every instance, the vast majority of Republican faithful knew Jason, found him to be eager, helpful, likable, and without controversy or negative connotation in the run up to convention.  The only shade being cast in his direction came from his opponents, which delegates took with appropriate skepticism.

Convention – The unmaking of those who would be king. 

If you’ve been reading for any time now, you know many of the events that took place in the lead up to convention.  The Republican Primary re-rolled the dice for many in the Party, and the accepted ‘establishment” was no longer the establishment.  There is a new Sheriff in town.

Candidates hit Pierre, and almost immediately their convention plans were sprung into action.

The Fitzgerald campaign went all out in their campaign, bringing in signs and materials, at the same time they went hard, hard negative against Jason Ravnsborg, ignoring Russell, almost to the exclusion of anything else. It was a constant barrage attacking his experience, and that Fitzgerald was the one who had the most. The tenor of the campaign came off to many of the delegates as angry.

The Russell campaign had allied itself with the more ultra-conservative elements of the GOP, and had the full throated support of Senator Stace Nelson. Why is this important? Ever since the primary, instead of preparing for convention to solely help Russell, Nelson packed his bags for an ego trip.

Nelson started out promoting former State Rep Dan Kaiser for Lt. Governor, even before Kristi Noem had made her choice. Unfortunately for Nelson, he didn’t have Kaiser’s blessing.  Even after Noem chose popular conservative State Rep. Larry Rhoden for the slot, Nelson persisted, with the aid of Rep. Liz May. And Kaiser continued in his denial.  At that point, with continued disavowals from Kaiser, the Draft Dan Kaiser movement became the State Nelson for Lt. Gov movement, making Nelson completely radioactive.  That was Thursday.

By Friday, as delegates were starting to arrive, candidate delegate counts of attendees were starting to gel, as did rumors of the Russell affiliated ultra-conservatives bringing in buses of delegates, spurred on by their great Lt. Gov crusade to put “a true conservative” in as the Lt. Gov pick.

At some point in the afternoon, likely after running their numbers, the Russell campaign and the Fitzgerald campaign had a very public mid-afternoon sit-down in the pool area of the GOP Convention.

With Russell having Zach Lautenschlager of the South Dakota Gun Owners acting as his consigliere, and Fitzgerald confidante’ John Teupel acting as his own, it was clear that a plan was being hatched to try to take out the competition.

Why was it needed? In the run up to convention, it was circulating in the rumor mill that the numbers looked very favorable to Ravnsborg, and that he had a commanding lead, especially those up and down the I-29 corridor.

While Fitzgerald and Russell were splitting up West River and going after Brown County, Ravnsborg was working everything up and down the Eastern SD Interstate. With everyone going after Brown County, it was likely going to be split. Bur Ravnsborg had also focused on gaining a near lock on Lincoln County, which the other candidates hadn’t put as much effort into, and he had hard totals of about 60% of Minnehaha.  In several of those counties I-29 counties, he had around 50% or more. They just had to show up.

As the delegates started to arrive, campaigns had to be counting their tallies. And Fitzgerald and Russell had to be coming to a similar conclusion. To have any chance, they needed to knock out Ravnsborg. What was hastily attempted on Friday (from reports I was hearing) was that the two trailing campaigns were demanding a debate between all three AG Candidates. But there were two problems.

Problem #1, which they anticipated, was that Ravnsborg had no interest in playing their game. Problem #2 was the venue. The convention sponsors were approached with the debate proposal and the campaigns were turned down flat, since it would occupy the space they were holding the Friday Night banquet.  They wanted a hard time of an 8pm debate, which would have been impossible anyway, since the Gubernatorial Nominee was still speaking at 8:10. It would have required tear down, clean up, and reconfiguration, making even the thought of the attempt a ridiculous one.

What was the alternative plan? A joint press release from the two AG campaigns issued in the early evening which turned out to have the opposite effect to what it was intended.

During the Friday night banquet, as delegates sat and visited, Zach Lautenschlager of South Dakota Gun Owners started dropping fluorescent blue flyers of the release at the left on tables. He’d nearly gotten all of them until he was stopped by GOP staff.

And come to find, as they were sitting down at a banquet to honor a past Governor (Frank Farrar) and listen to their next Governor Kristi Noem, delegates didn’t like it. They really, really didn’t like it.

It fired up many delegates and swung those on the fence against the two campaigns. And the negative barrage that followed in the hours after only solidified delegate’s dislike for what took place.

On Saturday delegates awoke to more negativity under their doors. and it continued to solidify the decisions of the night before.

Delegate numbers swelled in the early hours the day, until they numbered well over 600. The rumored buses of delegates being brought in by the Russell campaign amounted to not as many as some had predicted, but he still added to the total from several west river areas.

But there was a big vote to go first, to demonstrate the power of the ultra-right coalition being brought in to try to dominate the convention voting process. They would try to bring Stace Nelson as their man for Lt. Governor.

It was a slaughter. Unfortunately for them, it was their own slaughter and demonstrated a complete and utter debacle for the group.  The normal order of the process is Nomination & second from floor. Nominating and up to two seconding speeches from the podium, and then a 5 min speech from the candidate.  Rhoden’s nomination went off without a hitch with all the standard nominations and speeches (Matt Michels did the main nominating speech, and Dale Bartscher gave the second).

Then there was Stace Nelson’s nomination. Someone from Butte County nominated him from the floor, with an unknown second. The speeches were called for.  And there were crickets. Absolutely no one out of over 600 people would come and give a nominating speech for Nelson.  It was beyond awkward.

So Nelson came up, and gave his own speech which was at times cringe-worthy.

Stace Nelson literally had one of the worst losses in convention history. By nearly a 60% margin, 78% to 22%, the  allies of one of the AG campaigns had just been crushed in their first attempt on the convention ballot.

The other races went along without a hitch. And then the time arrived for Attorney General.

Russell had two great nominating speeches from Sen Brock Greenfield and Rachel Kippley of Brown Co.  Ravnsborg had an ok speech from Rep Les Heinemann and a great one from Sen and former Judge Art Rusch. And Fitzgerald started out by having former Rep. John Teupel yell his nominating speech for Fitzgerald angrily at the crowd.

And the voting was on.

With one county to go, it appeared that Ravnsborg might take it in the first vote with over 50%, obviating the need for a second vote.

But as confusion over certified voters for Pennington was resolved and they were able to finally cast their vote, it clearly had to go to a second vote:

Fitzgerald was out, and it was down to Russell and Ravnsborg. The chair called for a new vote immediately after a break while they got reset.  Lots of Fitzgerald people scattered. Fitzgerald was talking to a few people, and Ravnsborg started working the room.

Rep. Tim Goodwin complained to the chair that Ravnsborg was working the room. And the chair had to point out that this was the time for them to do that. Some members of a faction were not paying attention.

And the new vote was not long in coming:

With Russell picking up nearly 20,000 of Fitzgerald’s votes, over 30,000 of them moved to Ravnsborg. it was evident that the alliance on paper to try to take down Ravnsborg did not transfer over to the delegates Fitzgerald had in hand. If Fitzgerald was supposed to communicate to his people to support Russell, it didn’t happen, or it was not effective.

The race was definitively won by Ravnsborg. Russell was out, not quite as strongly as Nelson was repudiated, but the delegates he brought to Pierre were not enough to propel him to a win.

In closing, Ravnsborg gave an emotional speech how Saturday was the day his mother died 1 year ago. And now he would be able to remember it as not just a day of sadness, as he thanked the delegates, thanked the other candidates in the race, including Charlie McGuigan who had dropped out earlier, and declared to his father that he loved him.

And the chapter was closed on this phase of the race for Attorney General.

State Rep. David Johnson running for re-election, and ready to battle those that stand against him

State Representative David Johnson of Rapid City is just coming off of a session where he was embroiled in controversy for what by all appearances was a verbal disagreement with State Representative Lynne DiSanto.

But, despite the publicity surrounding the incident, he’s not going gently into the night.  And Dave has sent out a financial appeal to his supporters asking for them to assist him with his campaign, pointing out that he’s going to have a primary and his opponents are going to conduct an aggressive campaign to defeat him:

There are those who oppose my candidacy. They are likely to conduct an aggressive effort to defeat me, including personal attacks on my character. I am more than willing to defend myself and my record. Unfortunately, I believe my campaign will incur unusual advertising and printing expenses to counter actions by this faction and their extreme political agenda.”

Watch for this race to be one of the fiercest in the State as we get closer and closer to June.

Primary season is just starting. keep watching this space for more!

South Dakota GOP announces results of straw poll held at South Dakota State Fair

South Dakota GOP announces results of straw poll held at South Dakota State Fair

This evening, South Dakota Republican Party Chairman Dan Lederman announced the results of the South Dakota GOP’s Straw Poll held at the South Dakota State Fair, and was quite happy with the energy and strong interest that the poll drew among South Dakota’s Republican voters.

“The South Dakota State Fair was a great opportunity for the Republican Party to showcase the multiple candidates we have for our state’s political offices, and you could tell by the waves of people who would crowd the booth for an opportunity to meet the candidates and choose the one they liked the best,” Lederman said. “Besides the candidates who manned the GOP State Fair building all weekend, Republican voters also had a chance to greet old friends not up for election in 2018 such as Senator Mike Rounds and Senator John Thune who both spent time at the fair.”

Lederman prefaced the poll results by noting “Understanding that this is not a truly random or scientific poll, I have to say that each campaign worked their tails off to get their supporters to the fair and to meet South Dakotans still in the process of making a choice who to vote for. And they did it while the competition was only a few feet away.  It’s a testament to Republicans supporting each other in the spirit of competition.”

The results released tonight were as follows:

For Congress # Votes Percentage
Dusty Johnson 934 54.2%
Shantel Krebs 788 45.8%
For Governor
Lora Hubbel 20 1.1%
Marty Jackley 1019 57.9%
Terry LaFleur 6 0.3%
Kristi Noem 716 40.7%

1722 votes were cast in the straw poll for Congress, and 1761 were cast in the Gubernatorial Straw Poll.

Chairman Lederman made a point to compare the competition over the weekend, stating that “Republican energy was off the charts, and the Democrats a few doors down had an empty booth and ‘no mojo’ for most of the weekend. However, Republicans don’t rest on our laurels, and we’re gearing up for a spirited campaign in 2018.”

The GOP also drew for prizes. John Litzer of Tolstoy was the winner of the drawing for an autographed cowboy hat from Congresswoman Kristi Noem. Becky Berwald of Toronto, SD and Bobbie Ann Sullivan of Agar, SD both won a book by Kris Paronto, one of the soldiers immortalized in the true life “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” movie.

Wanda Gray of Sioux Falls won a flag donated by Marty Jackley, and Maria McKnights of Tea, SD won a bean bag game donated and signed by Congresswoman Kristi Noem.

2018 prognostication: A new name in the hunt for Congress, how a mentioned contender could shape another race.

Heard something interesting yesterday.

Apparently word is getting around the halls of government in Pierre that former GOP ED (and current LucasLentschDept of AG head) Lucas Lentsch is considering following in John Thune’s footsteps.   Word is that if there’s an opening for the Congressional seat, if Kristi Noem makes the jump to run for Governor, he may very well be running.

I say he would be following in Thune’s steps, as Thune, a former GOP ED himself, made a move after the SDGOP to state government before running for Congress himself. (There was also an intervening stop at the Municipal League).

The Directorship of the Republican party is a great place to meet the activists who will likely be the foot soldiers supporting a fledgling congressional race, and it’s a great leg up. Thune used his contacts and strong grass-root base and parlayed it into a victory over sitting Lt. Governor Carole Hillard.

The rest is history.

If Noem decides to make a run, it’s anticipated that it could be a crowded race. Observers also expect there’s a possibility former PUC Commissioner and Teenage Republican Advisor Dusty Johnson, who would share that GOP base with Lentsch, could take a stab at it. Having been elected twice statewide, Dusty could be fierce competition with an army of the youngest and energetic activists the GOP has matriculated over the past decade or so.

Some think Secretary of State Shantel Krebs could also take a run after her first term is up. As the Constitutional officers are chosen now, she could lose that race, and still have the SOS office to fall back on as a secondary position, running at convention weeks after a congressional loss, so there would be little holding her back from a run.

Gubernatorial counsel Jim Seward’s name had come up as a possible Congressional contender, Jim Seward 2013however, there are some who see a different path for the former State’s Attorney.

In addition to Congress, Seward’s name is one of those that keeps coming up in the race for Attorney General in 2018, alongside Deputy AG Charles McGuigan, House Majority Leader Brian Gosch, and former US Senate Candidate Jason Ravnsborg. But ultimately, it all comes down to the delegates.

Many of the GOP delegates are not terribly familiar with McGuigan, who has been a steady hand at the AG’s shop, but has generally eschewed politics.

Gosch, who has been a good majority leader for the House, has the misfortune of being a target of the disaffected wing of the GOP, simply because he represents part of what they view as “the establishment.”  In a convention contest, that could be a block of votes against him.

Jason Ravnsborg is a regular fixture at GOP Events across the state getting familiar with the delegates, and would be viewed as quite conservative in the race. But the question is how receptive delegates will be to someone who has not been a State’s Attorney?

Having gone to he Governor’s office in 2010, Former Butte County SA Seward has managed to stay out of some of the internecine fighting in GOP trenches over the past 4-5 years. And as a west river conservative, he could pick up some of the Stephanie Strong/Gordon Howie types who won’t support Gosch.

But….. one thing to keep in mind. It’s still only 2015. And with the races for these offices a long, long way off, we might be finding ourselves taking an eraser to the entire chalkboard with the playing field sketched on it.

At least a couple of times.

Watertown paper giving love to Kristi Noem for Governor in 2018

In an editorial printed in the Watertown Public Opinion this week, the editorial board would appear to be giving love to Congresswoman Kristi Noem as to whether she should consider seeking the office of Governor in 2018:

There also appears to be a solid movement favoring a gubernatorial candidacy by U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem of Castlewood which, if she decides to make a move for the governor’s chair, would potentially create atleast a threeway primary.

This isn’t the first time her name has come up as a potential candidate for governor. Political experts point to her experience in one statewide primary in 2010 and three general election campaigns in 2010, ’12 and ’14 as valuable assets. Plus, throw in the historical significance of her being the first woman Governor in South Dakota history, and it makes her possible entry into the race even more intriguing.

Read it here at the Watertown Public Opinion (Subscription required)

Do you think Kristi Noem could possibly be South Dakota’s first female Governor?

It didn’t happen with Wismer this last election, as I don’t think anyone thought she could legitimately compete with Daugaard. But Kristi is a horse of a different color, and an electoral force unto herself. Would the historical significance of her being a legitimate candidate who can win a general election give her a boost among female voters across the board as compared to her potential male competitors?