The 2018 South Dakota elections. Battling the perfect storm, and where we need to be for 2020. (Part 2)

(You can read Part 1 here.)

In 1990, South Dakota Democrats had focused on state legislative races in a manner which the South Dakota GOP was not prepared for at the time. Using postcards to target races, they hit many Republican incumbents hard with negative postcards at a time when they hadn’t been seen at that level.

While Republicans had a relatively free ride in the Gubernatorial contest with Bob Samuelson losing to George Mickelson 41 to 59%, Congressman Tim Johnson destroyed Don Frankenfeld, winning 68 to 32%.

That midterm election was a time of upheaval, when voters’ allegiances could be shifted.That started a sharp decline in legislative numbers for Republicans which culminated in 1992 when the GOP lost the State Senate, and for the first time in nearly 2 decades they found themselves relegated to the minority.

When faced with a nearly equal opportunity – a midterm election with a Republican in the White House, plus open seats in the Gubernatorial and Congressional contests, how did Democrats respond to the opportunity to move legislative seats in their direction?

They didn’t.  Once recruited, the Democrat Party seemingly abandoned legislative races. The Democrat party was fully staffed, but it’s unclear what they actually did.  One employee was running for statewide office themselves and received a donation from the Democrat Party for that effort, despite already being paid a salary.  In a year which should have been a bread and roses opportunity for Democrats to slice numbers off of the SDGOP’s commanding legislative totals, the Democrat Party sat on their hands.

For Republican legislative fortunes, don’t consider this election an easy one for the GOP. Maintaining their numbers in this unstable mid-term environment took hard work.

The GOP rose to the challenge, but is also brought to light some areas that Republicans need to watch in the 2020 election if they wish to keep a legislative supermajority in place.

What did Republicans learn from the legislative races this election?

Good candidates matter.  Since getting elected, Julie Bartling has always been able to move between legislative chambers at whim and has been a rare Democrat whom the GOP had given a berth to. Pro-life, and fairly popular in her District, no one wanted to tangle with her. But this year, the GOP had Rocky Blare.

Rocky was able to overturn a race that most Republicans had viewed as nigh-impossible, and not worth the attempt.  You also had Tamara St. John, who won a District 1 House seat for the GOP for the first time in over a decade or more.

Quality candidates who are engaged in the process win.

Hard working candidates matter.  It isn’t just enough to “be known.” Candidates have to get out and do the work.

Scyller Borglum who won in District 32 was a great example of this. Running for the legislature was something this doctoral candidate (at the time) always wanted to do, and she found herself with the opportunity. And she put 100% into it.  She went out and worked. She didn’t take anything for granted. She did the door to door. She did the fundraising. She did all the things that some who run for office don’t exactly find fun. But she did what needed to be done to win the race.

And there are many other examples, such as Caleb Finck in District 21, Rebecca Reimer in Chamberlain, Doug Post in Brookings, and the list goes on and on.   I hate to point out examples for fear of slighting anyone, because there were so many who got out and put in the work.

Early voting matters.  One of the things that the GOP did exceptionally well this election was a push in early voting. The State Republican Party drove a message out to their people through distributing tens of thousands of pieces of literature across the state, and reinforced the need for early voting throughout all of their messaging.

At the time when early voting was upon us, the party targeted top areas and blasted them with more early voting messaging.  After that they continued to expand efforts across the state at a time when Democrats did nothing.

Future success isn’t just about basic campaign techniques. It’s also about avoiding pitfalls, and to keep an eye on how we can improve.

What does the GOP need to watch for?

Sioux Falls. With a higher concentration of moderates, the Sioux Falls area seems to be getting to be more like larger cities in voting behaviors.  Statewide in the House, the GOP picked up 4 seats it didn’t have. But, the GOP exchanged them for five seats that it lost to Democrat candidates on election night.

Three of the seats the GOP lost were in the Sioux Falls area.

This could simply be related to the mid-term election, but historically, it has been an area where Democrats have been able to make inroads. As South Dakota has shifted to be redder and redder, Sioux Falls hasn’t necessarily gone that way.

It bears watching and will demand that the party recruit good and hard-working candidates to restore those seats to Republican leadership. And it might mean that more resources need to be shifted by the party as a whole to keep pace with the population.

Counties need to tend to business.  I can’t remember a time when even in the worst of years that Hughes County has gone as blue as it has.

Sure, Dems have had a rare seat or two in the Pierre centered legislative district in the last 40 years. But for it to go blue in not just one, but two top ticket races in a time when the GOP has a 100,000 vote advantage across the state is unheard of.  Additionally, there were other traditionally strong Republican areas such as Pennington County that required “triage” in the final month of the campaign (for lack of a better word) to get the troops marching in one direction.

You might refer to it as “mission creep,” defined as a project or mission that goes beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. County GOP Organizations need to remind themselves what they’re there for. They aren’t social clubs, or ideological discussion groups. They originally organized for the purpose of getting Republicans elected. Period.

As we move into 2020, we need to remember that.

Stay tuned for part 3

55 Replies to “The 2018 South Dakota elections. Battling the perfect storm, and where we need to be for 2020. (Part 2)”

  1. Michael L. Wyland

    I was a member of the Minnehaha County GOP Executive Committee in the early ’90s. To quote a former SD GOP Chair, “It’s tough to find a candidate conservative enough to satisfy Rapid City. For the GOP, Sioux Falls is like Bosnia – warring GOP factions that won’t talk to each other and won’t coalesce around any candidate.” We saw a lot of ticket-splitting Republicans who would, for example, vote GOP for governor and Dem for U.S. House and/or U.S. Senate. My legislative district, District 12, was a swing district – remember the whisker-thin races between Bob Caselli and Hal Wick? Would former District 12 Sen. Keith Paisley even be recognizable as a Republican in the current SD Legislature?

    Sioux Falls has been a conundrum for the GOP for a LONG time.

      1. Mi

        My GOP credentials are still strong and well-stocked, but thanks for your concern. In my support for Billie Sutton, I never said a negative word about either Kristi Noem or the Republican Party (or anyone else, for that matter).

        There have always been extremists who insist on “my party, right or wrong.” But I take comfort in Ronald Reagan’s twin maxims: “Never speak ill of another Republican” and “Someone who agrees with you 80% of the time isn’t your enemy. He’s your friend and ally, deserving of your respect and support.”

            1. Anonymous

              Republican for Sutton is kind of like when Benedict Arnold was supporting Americans during the Revolutionary war.

              You were supporting Republicans. Until you weren’t.

                  1. David

                    TARA–he is holding himself out to be a republican but voted for Sutton I am curious if he voted for the other Republicans also

  2. Anonymous

    Pondering makes a point I seem to find myself agreeing with.

    My GOP credentials are still strong and well-stocked… that may be true, but I’m not so sure people respect you the way they once did, MLW.

    1. Michael L. Wyland

      Anonymous 2:17 (sounds like a Biblical citation, doesn’t it?):

      Whenever one takes a position publicly, one both gains and loses supporters. That has been true in my proud identification as a Republican during my lifetime, and it may be true as a result of my publicly supporting Billie Sutton for governor. It’s a condition one accepts when one chooses to be *not* anonymous and publicly identify their person with their beliefs and preferences.

      My friends are still my friends because friendship is deeper than political allegiance, much less preference for a single candidate. Another quote: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, April 22, 1800

    1. Michael L. Wyland

      Correct. Here’s the roundup from Ballotpedia:

      “South Dakota State Senate: From 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the South Dakota State Senate for two years while the Republicans were the majority for 20 years. The South Dakota State Senate is one of 13 state senates that was Republican for more than 80 percent of the years between 1992-2013. South Dakota was under Republican trifectas for the final 19 years of the study.

      “Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

      “South Dakota State House of Representatives: During every year from 1992-2013, the Republican Party was the majority in the South Dakota State House of Representatives. The South Dakota House of Representatives is one of nine state Houses that was Republican for more than 80 percent of the years between 1992-2013. South Dakota was under Republican trifectas for the final 19 years of the study.”

  3. El Rayo X

    As for Hughes County turning blue, a lot of people in the area have sat on Randy Seiler’s federal juries and have first hand knowledge of his legal skills. He served without any political sway under two Bush and one Clinton administration well before he was labeled as Obama’s boy. Many others are familiar with his volunteer work in the area. People were voting for the local guy, not the party.
    As for Sutton’s success, a lot of people in the area know and like Marty Jackley. Maybe they felt Kristi was a little rude during the primary and voiced their opinions at the ballot box.
    Make no mistake, Hughes county is solidly red.

    1. Brian

      it might be red, but when the top 2 elected state Republicans don’t win is hard to argue it is “SOLID” red

  4. Anonymous

    Close to half the state’s Republicans voiced their displeasure with Kristi by supporting Sutton at the ballot box. That’s the only reasonable way to read the very narrow margin by which she won.

  5. Troy Jones

    1). Hughes & Stanley backed their nieghbors Marty and Randy like Kristis did (and Billies didn’t).

    2). I have no problem with Republicans openly backing people in other parties for whatever reason they want (one policy, many policies, character, or friendship). I do have a problem with them using the Republican brand to serve their purpose. It isn’t their brand.

    3). Less than 20% of the GOP voted for Billie. If it had been more, he would have won. Simple math.

    1. Anonymous

      You’re right, Troy; I misspoke. Close to half of the voting electorate, not the Republican Party, stated their lack of confidence in Kristi.

  6. Anonymous

    Trump’s pending impeachment puts conservatives in a bind if Mike Pence breaks ranks or is that missing from Dusty’s transition notes?

    1. Michael L. Wyland

      I’m not sure what this means, but impeachment would be a magnificently stupid idea on the part of the House Democrats. In theory, the House can impeach the President for any reason 218 House members agree upon (though the inexact “high crimes and misdemeanors” is cited as the Constitutional standard). There is virtually no way that 2/3 of the U.S. Senate (67 Senators) would vote to convict the President and remove him from office. Throwing Mike Pence into the mix in any role – other than the Vice President who would be President in the highly event the President were convicted – would trigger a Constitutional crisis of never-before-seen proportions. See my 2017 article on impeachment:

  7. Lee Schoenbeck

    1992 was the first year of, and from whence the phrase was coined, “being postcarded”. The Dems were amazing, and I say that as the GOP candidate who got the worst of it in the senate race in district one. Rick Hauffe and staff did a masterful job. I hated those cards, but did appreciate their impact. Symens beat me by 200 votes, which gave me the best result for a GOP candidate since 1956, and still left me the loser and him the senator. I think the Dems took the senate by one seat (maybe two).
    The next year I beat him by 12 votes, after the recount. The GOP took the senate back with 19 seats. Jim Thompson captured the Watertown seat. I think we elected 7 GOP senators that were newbies. The Dems didn’t have the fire in 1994 and we had Janklow. They did the postcards again, but they were mostly redoes of 1992 and less effective on the rebound.
    Until 2006, the Dems never really rallied the legislative races again. In 2006 Heidepriem and Herseth hit the phones and recruited candidates. The Dems had near equality and a working majority on many issues after that election for two to four years.
    Going forward Sioux Falls is the new battleground, if the Dems understand their math. GOP only looses this if they have some Maginot Line perspectives about their risks. With likely shift of one or two legislative districts into SF metro area, this is a bigger deal than might be readily apparent.
    GOP has built strength in former Dem strongholds like Brown and Sanborn and Gregory counties, but most of the ruby red stuff is in declining population areas. Population centers outside of SF have been some of the best GOP news for the growth in GOP strength – Codington, Brown, northern Hills. These areas get a lot of migration from surrounding red counties.
    In rural South Dakota ag economics have killed Dems. They relied on Farms Union to do their lifting. Those farmers are gone, and Farmers Union is now an insurance company owned by QBE based in Sydney, Australia!
    Good article. GOP challenge is that many of us that cut our teeth as proud right-wingers don’t understand how some of the mad and angry stuff gets passed off as “conservative”. It’s not, and it’s way not the policy stuff of a Ronald Reagan. If we act like real conservatives, we’ll be fine. People like jobs and a thriving economy with minimal government interference. If we govern like crazies, 2018 will be the canary in the coal mine.

    1. Steve Sibson

      Ronald Reagan did not create conservatism, Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson did. If Reagan was serious about preserving the Constitution, he would have carried out his threat to eliminate the Department of Education.

      1. Lee Schoenbeck

        Ok, I’ll play. Who are you saying was the conservative and who’s the liberal? George Washington supported a bigger and stronger federal government; Thomas Jefferson opposed a strong federal government. Now, before it was politically incorrect, Democrats called their annual dinners Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners. So you’re a Jefferson side, right? If not, please enlighten us, as saying “founding fathers” is of no informative value to the discussion.

        1. Anonymous

          I’m not getting Lee’s point. The “bigger and stronger” federal government supported by George Washington wasn’t remotely as big the one we have today, and it definitely didn’t include a federal Department of Education.

          1. Lee Schoenbeck

            There’s an old joke that’s response includes “so then we’re just arguing about price”.

            Modern philosophical labels don’t fit the late 1770s, but the rhetoric of that time did label – if you assign labels to comparable arguments – George Washington and the Federalists as a bunch of liberals that wanted big government. Its just nonsensical to assign a modern political label to the players in 1800. People that do that think they have made a statement, when all they have done is made noise – which is easier than being burdened with thinking.

  8. a friend of education

    Mr. Schoenbeck, that’s the best comment I’ve read in quite some time. Informative, fair, perceptive, incisive, and (IMO) exactly right all all points. If we don’t understand the recent past we’ll make missteps in the present. Thank you for contributing to the discussion (and to my education).

    1. Anonymous

      And certainly don’t rely on teachers/professors to be truthful or leave their social justice agenda out of their history lessons.

  9. Anonymous

    Stace Nelson vs Mike Rounds in 2020? No Bosworth, Ravnsborg and Rhoden to serve as Rounds Plants this time as was claimed.

    1. Anonymous

      I just realized that was a pretty historic class that ran in 2014’s Senate primary. One is a US Senator, one an LG and the other an AG. Who would have predicted that in 2014?

          1. Anonymous

            2020 Gary Hansen is up for PUC–I do wonder if he will run again

            Senate–Rounds will run, he may get a far right challenger, but unless they have money I don’t see them getting close

            Congress –Dusty is up but 1) lets see how he does but hard to see him unseated that early

            Dems have NO BENCH…if Dems were smart they would focus on PUC to get a toe hold and try to win a statewide race vs worrying abut US Senate especially if it is open.

            Shad or Stace have no chance, but would be entertaining

  10. Michael L. Wyland

    A fellow Republican e-mailed me this link to Fox News’s analysis of the voters for SD Governor:

    Here’s the description of their process:

    :Fox News has launched an improved approach for analyzing Americans’ priorities and vote preferences on Election Day. The Fox News Voter Analysis combines survey data from NORC at the University of Chicago with voting results from The Associated Press. As more people vote early or by mail, the new method overcomes the limitations of in-person exit polls and captures the views of all Americans by integrating probability-based, state-by-state surveys with a massive online poll. The FNVA survey will show results from all 47 states in which there is a contested statewide election this November.”

    1. Pondering

      Why did you have to make a point of mentioning “a fellow Republican”? Why not just post the news story? No need to mention that someone sent it to you, much less identify party affiliation. Hmmm.

      1. Anonymous

        Why not?

        Because MLW is having trouble understanding if the choice he made was worth it. We know, but MLW isn’t so sure. Sutton was running on the Republican platform with a D behind his name. MLW was hoodwinked, they all were.

  11. Anonymous

    Many were hoodwinked. Sutton played the ‘almost R’ card. Tells you how much people can be persuaded without doing their own research… I won’t judge though; I used to be one to go with the majority. Until Ross Perot. That’s when I branched off, got my dad (WWII vet and an R for his entire life) to vote non-R and I don’t regret it. He wanted a change in the 90’s and that’s why I LOVE Trump!!! A change! Someone who knows how to handle a business and $$$!!! Finally…

  12. Anon

    A lot of people were surprised by the Hughes Co. results, but I’m not sure it’s a county issue. Kristi had signs up all over and seemed to have an active campaign, but my hunch is the Billie voters were hiding in the shadows because of their state government jobs and nobody knew his strength there until election day. The rough primary was a factor, no doubt. Regarding AG, Seilier is a hometown guy. Hughes is still a heavily Republican county, but there is more to consider than voter registration #s

  13. Tara Volesky

    Nothing wrong with a populist running on the D or R ticket. Trump did it and won. Maybe the second time will be the charm for Sutton.

  14. Troy Jones

    This is a pretty good summary

    Candidates matter- Candidates don’t appear out of thin air. When they pull off the wild upset, they end up being like Ocasio-Cortez (loony and shallow).

    Hard work matters- Just look at Thune and Dusty. Nobody works harder.

    Organization matters- In this last election, Dusty could command literally a minimum of 100 people at any event he wanted. He knew where all the best public events were being held on a moment’s notice and was there.

    Experience matters: Again, look at Dusty. He hadliterally hundreds of smart people from diverse locations and backgrounds giving him honest critical feedback instead of an echo chamber. I always tell people the “tried and true is tried and true because it works.”

    Being a winner matters: Nobody likes being with a loser. This does’t mean you can’t lose elections and come back because some candidates lose and people still see a winner because of past success and or how they handle loss. But, be realistic. George McGovern (1960), Jim Abdnor (1970) and Bill Janklow (1986) are the only people* I can recall (in last 70 years) who lost a major race and came back to serve in a statewide office.

    *Nothing intended to be said about our new Lt. Governor. I think elections are won and lost without regard to running mates unless they are horrible picks. My guess is neither Lt. Gov. brought or cost 1,000 votes they both wouldn’t have gotten other wise.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.