Republican Delegates are going to find themselves spending a lot of time on Saturday casing unanimous ballots for candidates who are the sole candidates for many of the offices up for nomination. But one race has become more hotly contested over the past several months, and it’s all coming to a head with the vote to finally nominate the Republican candidate for Attorney General.
What’s the lay of the land at this point?
Let me preface this by noting that ALL of them would do a good job representing the South Dakota Republican Party. I do like them all. But, from talking to delegates and activists in the field, and sticking my finger in the wind to take a temperature, here’s my best guesstimate of the their odds in capturing the nomination as the GOP Convention commences.
Lawrence County States Attorney John Fitzgerald has a long record as a State’s Attorney. As noted on his web site, “John was the Butte County State’s Attorney from 1981-1995 and a Deputy State’s Attorney in Lawrence County from 1990-1995. In 1995 John became the Lawrence County State’s Attorney and has been serving Lawrence County ever since.” He’s been living and breathing the job of prosecutor for a long, long time.
However, earning the job of Attorney General is about more than just being a prosecutor. You’re out raising the money. You’re out being the face of your campaign, and you’re going to be out on the campaign trail for several months convincing South Dakotans that you’re the one for the job.
In the run up to the Pre-primary report GOP Convention, Fitzgerald raised the least of any of the candidates, and loaned his campaign $10,000 to help get through to this weekend.
In talking with delegates across the state, Fitzgerald has his supporters, but in handicapping the race, almost without fail, most I’ve talked to look at the race being decided in 2 votes.
And while it’s entirely possible that my universe is too limited, in most cases Fitzgerald is widely viewed as being the one who will be dropped after the first vote. That gives him a hard path to swing the number of delegates he needs to turn that around.
There are some who are committed to his experience, and they’ll work like a dog for him at convention. But he’s got a long way to go, and a lot of people to convince to move the needle in 3 days.
Lance Russell is the second of the two candidates who have a record in being elected as State’s Attorney. Clicking over to his web site, you’ll see that Lance was elected as the Fall River County State’s Attorney where “he served in that role for eight years,” before he was “elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives as the District 30 Representative, where he served until 2016 when he was elected as the District 30 Senator.”
Lance is an outstanding retail campaigner, and has been able to win past elections through sheer will if necessary. He’s taken the bark off of opponents, and beaten them handily. He’s a former Executive Director for the SDGOP, cut his teeth working on the Timmer for Congress Campaign, etc. He knows his politics. He has many friends in political circles.
But there’s also a contrarian streak in Lance that has caused him to butt heads with people in his home community, the legal community at large, and in the Legislature. And while he might have friends willing to go to the mat for him, he has some opponents who are equally committed against him.
While he has the endorsement from Brock Greenfield to boast of, he also has endorsers such as Gordon Howie or Stace Nelson. Nelson’s endorsement might be problematic, given his attacks on Kristi Noem’s choice for Lt. Governor.
Also handicapping Lance in the Republican AG race has been the remoteness of his Hot Springs home. I’ve heard on a couple of occasions from delegates that they were expecting to meet with Lance, and not get a telephone call from a hired minion. That remoteness is the enemy of a retail politician like Lance.
Lance raised over $23,000 in the run up to the primary election, leaving him over 8k to come into the convention race with.
Lance’s campaign has been mail-bombing delegates for the last month or so in a hard last minute push to this weekend’s vote, so it’s doubtful he lacks name ID.
The question now that’s he’s face to face whether he can charm the delegates on location enough to swing the odds in his favor by Saturday.
Jason Ravnsborg has been a ubiquitous fixture at Republican events in every county since he ran unsuccessfully for the United State’s Senate in 2014. One of the fateful decisions that Ravnsborg made in that election was to reject a hard negative ad against Mike Rounds that advisors were demanding he run. Ravnsborg’s solution was to fire the advisers. He lost the election, but like Larry Rhoden, one of his other opponents who lost to Rounds, Jason has lived to come back to the statewide stage in 2018, and run for the nomination for Attorney General.
While Ravnsborg has not served as a State’s Attorney (which his opponents chide him for) he has experience in civil trials, criminal trials, and has been working as an assistant State’s Attorney in Union County. And one thing that Ravnsborg doesn’t talk about on the stump, possibly due to campaign related regulations that affect him, is his ongoing service in the Military Reserves.
As noted on his website, Jason is “a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserves and has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Germany during his military career. He has been awarded the Bronze Star along with many other awards and has been honored for his service by Congress. Jason has had four company commands and currently serves as a battalion commander overseeing approximately 1,000 soldiers in South Dakota and Nebraska.” While not necessarily having the prosecutorial experience of his opponents, he makes up for it in his administrative experience, which is a large part of the job of AG. AG’s hire people to prosecute. But they are looked to directly administer. And I don’t think you get promoted to Lt. Col by being a slouch.
Did I mention that Ravnsborg was a ubiquitous fixture at Republican events in every county, especially the events East River? Jason has been on the campaign trail for quite some time, and has likely met every delegate who will be attending the convention. And that accounts for a massive part of his momentum coming into the campaign. Delegates recognize Jason Ravnsborg has been putting in the work for quite some time. And that makes for a strong candidate in the fall.
Ravnsborg has also been the top money raiser in the run up to the convention. That doesn’t hurt his chances, either.
Without exception, those that I’ve talked to put Ravnsborg into the top two of the candidates who will make it to a second vote, with some handicapping him as having a significant advantage, due to large contingents in large counties siding with him.
There’s an old saying when it comes to delegates. Convention Delegates are with a candidate 100%. Until they’re not.
Delegates are a lot like legislators during the session. You have those who will stick with you until the bitter end. You have those who will take convincing to come with you. You have those who blow with the wind. And you have those who will vote depending on the last person who talks to them. There’s no exact science except to do your best to turn out your voters, and to identify those who haven’t committed yet.
By all accounts, I’m hearing there may be as many as 20% of the delegates who have not made up their mind yet. Depending on where they’re from, that might be enough to affect a race.
And it might also hinge on who survives the first vote. Sometimes candidates can capture a first vote, but promises might be out the window on the second vote, and it might depends on who survives the first vote to winnow the field. The defeated candidate’s votes are going to go somewhere… And it might not be to the winner in the first round.
So, that’s my take on it. Stay tuned for updates – I’ll be on location starting tomorrow night!!