The Watertown Mayoral Race – will early voting matter as much as the campaign?

If you’ve been watching SDWC, as well as seeing some of the postings from Watertown locals on Facebook, you’ll know there’s a heated election up in Watertown tomorrow.

There’s the Mayoral race which has gathered a bit of attention, as well as a City Council Race. The word out of the City is that there has been a strong early voting (or in-person absentee, if we’re getting technical) trend which might show strong interest in a race that would normally be decided on by about 2200 people in a good year.

So how is that going to all fall out? Your guess is as good as mine.

As I had written a couple of weeks back during this month’s Sioux Falls School Board election, early voting could account for up to 30 percent of the turnout:

When the number of votes coming in early ranges anywhere from 20% to 30%, it’s an indication that candidates need to pay very strong attention to a campaign where people are voting 45 days out – all the way back into September in a general election.


The Absentee/Early Voter needs to be part of any campaign strategy, and in light of numbers approaching 30%, they need to be courted and have sufficient resources devoted towards attracting their favor.

In other words, The Early Bird Catches the Early Voting Worm.

Read that here.

Where is that early voting bump going to land in Watertown?  That’s a good question. There was a lot of turmoil right around the time early voting began.

WHAT IS THIS MESS? I think it’s some sort of a newspaper ad.

The mayor had some negative press early on, and the local newspaper has crusaded against him constantly, but it is unclear whether the challenger was ever able to fully capitalize on it.  Sarah Caron’s job was to convince voters that they made a poor decision in electing the current mayor a few years back, and they needed to rectify that error.

All the Mayor has to do was to convince people they made a good choice before, and to stay the course. Which is why the power of incumbency is so powerful. OF COURSE people made the right choice. Ask anyone if they make bad decisions – they’ll always tell you that they’re right!

Rushmore PAC postcard

I’m hearing from people on the ground in Watertown that the sign wars were about equal, but in her campaigning, Caron’ was seemingly gaining some steam…. but peaked about 2 weeks ago, and then fell off the planet. Right about the time Caron was fizzling, the Mayor’s campaign efforts were continuous and ongoing, and last week a multiple postcard barrage as well as a door-to-door push arrived from Rushmore PAC in support of his candidacy.

I had one local political prognosticator tell me they see the vote potentially shaking out as 50%+ for Thorson, maybe up to 40% for Caron, with the rest for Mike Davis. Although, they also thought Davis might pull more strongly than 10%, fracturing and dividing the anti-mayor vote, and ensuring the incumbent returns to office.

With a race that close, as noted, depending on whose message was able to penetrate the most effectively in the early stages of the election, the 20-30% of the electorate who participated in early voting in the contest may play a significant factor in determining who walks away a winner, and who will be licking their wounds after tomorrow night.

Could it be close enough that it goes to a runoff, if no one gets over 50%? It’s possible.  But if I were to guess, which I am since I’m not in that town, I think the stronger money is on the incumbent at this point.

So, if you’re wondering how it will all turn out, hop on Al Gore’s Internets tomorrow night and keep an eye on the 2017 Watertown Municipal Election!

24 Replies to “The Watertown Mayoral Race – will early voting matter as much as the campaign?”

  1. anon1

    It’s mind-boggling to me that this race has become so contested. When you take a step back, and ignore all the clutter, it’s a race between an incumbent mayor with a strong track record, and a disgruntled city worker who was fired from her job that is running purely for revenge.

    Here’s some comments posted on facebook earlier today by current Watertown city councilman, Mike Danforth —

    Watertown residents:
    Our mayoral election ends tomorrow, and for many weeks now I have refrained from getting involved in this matter in any way. I have heard Sarah Caron state that she lost her job with the city because she did what was right, so today I am breaking from my silence on many of the issues that have been the basis for Ms. Caron’s campaign, because I know the factual truth, and I feel I must do what is right, and that is to communicate the truth.
    Regarding the bike trail at Memorial Park, as was written in the PO by Mr. Johnson, the fact is the trail was not completed as was planned because of concerns of the community members in that area on the location of the bike trail. That small section of the trail was pulled from the plan so that another plan could be established and considered. Ms. Caron knows this to be factual, because she was involved in this project, and was in regular communication with the SDDOT on the matter. Emails don’t lie.
    Regarding the Cherry Drive concerns with the watershed area behind their homes, and Ms. Caron’s claim that “nothing has been done to solve the problem”. It is first important to know that this development was started and all the issues in question preceeded Mayor Thorson. Promises were made to the area residents by then mayor Williams and city engineer Drake, that were not kept. Two years ago Mayor Thorson requested acting city engineer Sarah Caron to get involved and coordinate a public meeting on the matter, which she did. During her 9 month stint as acting city engineer, Ms. Caron did nothing to solve the problem. In fact, by the time the public meeting was held, Ms. Caron did not know, and may not have ever known, which governmental entity had jurisdicational authority over this watershed area. In the end, now city engineer Shane Waterman worked through the process and found out the authoriy was with the Corp. of Engineers, and not the city of Watertown, which limits what can be done, and how.
    Ms. Caron has recently stated that a traffic study was completed for the new Hobby Lobby, and that it was ignored. That is not true. There has NEVER been a traffic study for the new Hobby Lobby. The truth is a traffic study was conducted by HDR for the Homan Development, which includes much of the development on both sides of Willow Creek Dr. and along Hwy 212. The study was a recommendation to the city and the developer. Apparently it was more interesting to let people think it was done for Hobby Lobby….the big out-of-town company. Is there an issue with the Hobby Lobby entrance….yes. But not as has been communicated by Ms. Caron.
    Ms. Caron claims our building and development ordinances are outdated and in disarray. The fact is all ordinances related to building, development, and zoning were completely gone through by a committee chaired by Geoff Heig, and approved by city council just 5 1/2 years ago. The process took many months to complete, and included then asst. city engineer Sarah Caron throughout the review, who fought for much of the language and requirements contained in the end product. Now 5 1/2 years later, they are all wrong and outdated?
    Ms. Carron has made claims of “cronyism” and back room deals occuring. I have been on the city council for six years, and prior to that served on the Plan Commisssion and Board of Adjustments for 9 years. NEVER IN THAT TIME HAVE I EVER BEEN A PART OF, SEEN, OR HEARD OF ANY SUCH DEALINGS. That is because they do not happen like Ms. Caron is eluding to. I have NEVER been told how I will vote on an issue, nor have I ever been told what to say. I trust my fellow council members (current and past), will attest to this as well.
    Regarding fiscal responsibility. It is important to note that by plan (Home Rule Charter), the goverance of Watertown is set up as a Strong Council/Weak Mayor type of structure. This means that the council has the say in ordinance approval and budget control. In no case can a mayor spend money not authorized. The mayor can not pass any ordinance. The mayor can not obligate the city to any contract without council approval. As has been stated publically, the capital projects completed or in place, where intiated 3-4 years ago with the approval of the bond approval for the Wellness facility (from the H20-20 process). That vote was a community directive to get these projects completed.
    One can not help but question Ms. Caron’s fiscal responsibility claim, when she is in support of the SDDOT’s round-a-bout to be completed on south Hwy 81. This is a state project, and is projected to cost an estimated $3 million +/-. Of this amount, the municipal utilities will have a large expenditure, as will the city of Watertown. Thanks to Mayor Thorson and city engineer Shane Waterman, they worked with the SDDOT on what was planned to be a temporary solution at this intersection, to improve traffic safety and flow. As a result of this action, the temporary fix has proven to be very effective in resolving the traffic concerns, at very little expense. Why would we pay $3 million to fix a problem that really doesn’t exist anymore, with a solution few people want?
    Regarding Stoney Point. This was a 2 phased development, by two different developers. Both of these involved very complex and complicated engineering issues, as well as a lot of emotion from differing parts of the community and adjoining landowners. Yes, there was a sediment control violation that started during Phase 1, which was during Mayor Williams tenure. I believe it is typically the responsibility of the city engineering dept. or the zoning/Building Services dept. to make sure the contractors adhere to this code requirement, not the mayor. Ms. caron was a part of the engineering staff at the time of the violation. How did this occur from the department she was assisstant of?
    At the same time, Ms. Caron was a board of director (which she is still today), on the Lake Kampeska Water Project District (LKWPD), which was the main opponent to the development of Stoney Point. Ms. Caron held this position in an adversary role at the same time she was a paid city engineer, who was to be working with the developers to determine if and how the deveopment could proceed. This was a direct conflict of interest with her Professional Engineering Code of Ethics, as well as what should have been her own code of ethics to the community and her employer. She had to be asked to step away from her involvement with the LKWPD until the issues were resolved.
    When asked in the June 3rd, 2017 Waterown Public Opinion if a new city hall was needed she stated, “it meets the needs of the citizens and allows the staff to perfrom their duties. A new facility would be a luxury”. Now, recently Ms. Caron stated that a new city hall was needed, but maybe not at this time. That is exactly the position Mayor Thorson and the current council have taken on this issue, and thus have included this in the long term capital planning for the city.
    Wow this was long, but I feel it had to be said. As individuals, and certainly as public officials, it is each of our responsibilities to tell the truth, and to have the expectation that we will be told the truth.
    Please vote for your candidates of choice tomorrow, but do so knowing the true facts.
    Thank you.

      1. Anonymous

        Look at the Facebook posts under Mike Danforth; do you need to be led around by the hand?

    1. Tara Volesky

      If all this is true, then why didn’t Mr. Thorson show up and debate Ms Caron…….PAT??????

    2. Tara Volesky

      Mr. Danforth,why did you wait to say this the day before the election, without giving Ms. Caron time to respond?

  2. KM

    anon1: Ya, that was long; well-said though. Truth, Justice and the American Way is what we say! If I lived in WTown, I would vote incumbent over insubordination. Hoping people get out and vote. Taking into account early voters is important, we do it because the kids don’t always have the patience to wait in line. We also think door-to-door is crucial, talking to one person is really more like talking to ten.

        1. Anonymous

          I think she wants you to put your name out there otherwise she doesn’t consider it a valid post. She’s funny that way (and other ways).

  3. grudznick

    Disgruntled employees need to be shut down. Instead of the IM #22 we should have had the IM #23 that punished complainers who have been fired for being insubordinate. You know what they do in the Marines to insubordinates? Bad things. Really mean things.

  4. Anonymous

    I’ve met the mayor and He’s a real great guy and asset for the community. Watertown is lucky to have him.

    With this kind of mud being thrown by her and the paper why do good people like the mayor run in the first place?

  5. A nony mous

    ”’Watertown is lucky to have him.””

    I have never thought that any town was “LUCKY”: to have any one person in a political office.

  6. chief

    Caron won the election with 2557 votes, to Thorson’s 2168. and Davis’s 157. I really think that Lederman and his Rushmore PAC getting involved backfired. People resent outsiders getting involved in their local races, just like most of Gov. Daugaard’s legislative endorsements lost their elections.

    1. Pat Powers Post author

      You’re assuming a lot, as there’s no indication he would have come that close without the outside assistance. Plus, 20-30% of the votes were in (early voting) before Rushmore PAC did a thing.

      1. Bill B

        Pat, can we ever determine if the outsiders help or hurt then? I didn’t hear 1 person in Watertown say they were changing their minds to vote for Thorson because of the PAC. I did hear over a dozen people that were voting for Caron, that were previously undecided, because of the PACs involvement. That is where the assumption came from.

    2. Anonymous

      Thorson got called out for using city vehicles without permission early in the race, it was pointed out he had a tax lien from the IRS, and I heard he spent this past weekend fishing instead of campaigning.

      I think he figured out how to lose this race all by himself.

      Too bad. He is still better than what they elected.

  7. chief

    Yep, it was a little odd hearing Caron say in a post-election interview that in order to win she knew (months ago) that she had to “re-invent herself” ! What the heck does that mean? We have another liberal faking to be a conservative in order to win?