Making bets on who the Republican AG Candidate will be. Time to lay out the odds.

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.

THE CANDIDATES:

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.

However….

THE CAVEATS:

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!!

21 Replies to “Making bets on who the Republican AG Candidate will be. Time to lay out the odds.”

    1. Anonymous

      While Fitzgerald has prosecutoring experience, he is missing so much more. He does not know how to campaign or communicated with people. He has no leadership or management experience.

      Fitzgerald is the least qualified of the three, hence why he I in third place.

      Reply
    2. Anonymous

      I’m for Russell but I believe Ravnsborg’s support is slipping by the day and going to Fitzgerald.

      Fitzgerald is coming on strong by default.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Who have you been talking with because I am not hearing that at all? All I hear is all the support that Ravnsborg has.

        Are you only talking with Mary?

        Reply
      2. Anonymous

        Your evidence? Unless you are getting info directly from those who will cast the ballots I don’t think your statement had any validity.

        Reply
  1. SSD

    Campaign or not, I think John is the best choice. Is campaigning in the job description? I think his ability to try cases and his experience with the number of cases he has tried will weigh more on voters’ choice than his ability to campaign. When it comes to who is best qualified, it would be John, hands down. I would give him much better odds.

    Reply
  2. Tumbleweed

    What a dilemma!
    Ravensborg is a good campaigner, a loyal foot soldier who is light on Law office management and trial experience.
    Russell has the Supreme Court sanction handicapping him.
    Fitzgerald has strong trial experience (probably doesn’t settle enough cases) but is weak on policy issues which is much of what the AG deals with. He also is an inexperienced campaigner and it shows.
    Maybe a dark horse at the convention?

    Reply
    1. Steve

      Fourth candidate is a disaster and only helps Russell.

      I believe Jason has the fewest flaws. He has demonstrated he can campaign he can raise money and he’s talking about policy issues. I think his lack of legal experience is greatly exaggerated what do you think this guy’s been doing for the last 15 years?… and he easily cures his deficit by hiring a solid deputy or I like the scenario of him teaming up with John Fitzgerald and letting John do trials all over the state wherever John likes cuz John seems to enjoy doing trials.

      Someone should seriously put these two together in the same room to talk this out.

      No matter how it comes out we need to be United and this is the best way that I’ve thought of…your turn!

      Reply
  3. Troy Jones

    Pat did you intend to leave 1/5 odds the nominee is someone else or is that just your juice as bookie?

    As I am not a delegate or sense of who are delegates, I have no idea how it will turn out. However, if this had been a primary election held a few weeks ago, I’d put Jason’s odds at 95%. But it is a convention selection so the rules are different and strategies are too.

    PS: I hope the candidates have been more relevant in communication to delegates than what has been said here. Anonymous comments “so and so is most qualified and the other guys are bozos” is not effective. It is probably counter productive as you’d expect supporters to have specifics. And when they have none, it gives the impression the candidate and his supporters are both idiots.

    Reply
  4. Charlie Hoffman

    Troy ask yourself which of the AG candidates Office would you most like to work in. That very well could be the deciding factor in this race. I’ve been with Jason for a few years now and for me I never change horses mid-stream unless the horse dies.
    Ravnsborg appears solid footed and quite healthy.

    Reply
  5. Troy Jones

    Charlie, I have never met any of them and in all the BS noise, I have not heard from them or their supporters anything I find relevant to picking a horse.

    And that is ok. It is a convention selection and I trust the delegates to be doing their job.

    BTW, I thought each candidate had a great opportunity to distinguish themselves in one way or another during the period between the primary and convention. As far as I can tell, nobody took it.

    This is just one example: Did anyone congratulate publicly Kristi, Dusty, & Larry? And thank the others? Nope. Big missed opportunity. If they do it now, it will be perceived as calculated AND highlight they didn’t do it earlier.

    I could list others specific to each.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    If you do as many trials as Fitzgerald is all about connecting with people. He has the ability to connect with people and talks from the heart. I’ve worked with John and I know him. The more you get nasty with him the more I’m convinced he’s the one that is going to win.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      That is not a good argument when all I am hearing and reading is that Fitzgerald has a very low conviction rate. A low conviction rate makes me think he doesn’t know how to argue nor connect with others. Additionally, it seems like Fitzgerald is just taking every case to court when some should have been settled. Your argument Anon 7:31 is not a good one in support of Fitzgerald’s prosecuting experience.

      Reply
  7. Troy Jones

    Troy Jones: I think “_______” is about to drop out.

    Anonymous: I’ve heard “________” support is falling away while “_______” is gaining.

    In the first case, I admit I don’t have any clue to make such an assertion. In the second, you have no idea who is saying it. In fact, it could be a candidate’s wife.

    Why would any think either statement is remotely worthy of any reliance? It’s crazy.

    Like the guy at 6:28, I just would love to know what they are going to do when they get there. Really do.

    Final comment: I don’t ever, ever, ever, want my Attorney General to try a case personally. I have hired attorneys and for a month I don’t want them to think about anything but my case. Anything. I’ll even mow their yard and pick up their groceries if it will keep them concentrating on my case. Hire a good attorney to try cases. That is what I did. It is what people do who have other responsibilities. Plus, just because you are a great home run hitter doesn’t mean you are a good hitting coach. In fact, sometimes great home run hitters are bad coaches because they can’t handle/mentor/tutor people of lesser talent (who actually need coaching).

    Yes, if the AG wants to enter pleas and be there to close the deal. I get that. But, the AG has literally over 100 people who depend on day-to-day leadership. You just can’t take a month “vacation” to try a major case. And if it is a minor case, it is a total waste of focus.

    Delegates: Make a good choice. You are selecting the manager of the office of legal counsel for all state government and the chief law enforcement officer of the state.

    Reply
    1. Peter

      I agree with Troy, The AG position requires a lot of leadership and management. Delegates need to evaluate each candidate’s abilities in this department and their past experience with leadership and management.

      Reply
  8. a friend of education

    Solid, logical points Mr. Jones. Well put.

    It was my privilege to know Richard “Racehorse” Haynes — a fantastic trial lawyer who passed away last year. One of the best ever in the courtroom + in the barroom, sharing whiskey & war stories. Hilarious guy. Zealous advocate.

    I’d never want him as Attorney General. He could not manage 100 men.

    All 3 candidates for the GOP nomination seem capable of doing a good job running the AG office. Each has some managerial experience. Each has some trial experience. Not one of them is perfect; a perfect man hasn’t walked the earth in 2000 years. Delegates should weigh the pros and cons and make an informed choice.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    I have known Jason personally for 15 years, and I have had a chance to work with him in his capacity as an attorney. My experience has shown him to be highly competent, intelligent, hard-working, and honest. Attacks against him claiming he doesn’t have a job are ludicrous.

    I don’t think it is insignificant that he has achieved his position in the Army. They don’t simply hand out promotions like candy. To me this shows his integrity and ability to lead.

    I think it is a simple attack to say he is not qualified,

    Reply

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