Top Five South Dakota State Senate Races – Early August Edition

As we pass the 100 day mark, and start to slide into my favorite time of year – campaign season – I’ve been spending some time reviewing the State Senate Races to try to determine which races we could expect to be the most hotly contested, and where humble observers like ourselves might see the respective political parties putting the most effort into.

It’s all terribly subjective, and can change on a dime.  Issues crop up, fortunes fail, candidates prefer to devote themselves to things other than the campaign – and all efforts at punditry fall apart.

Keeping those disclaimers in mind, let’s take a snapshot glance at what I’m seeing as the top 5 South Dakota State Senate Races for 2012, as of the first days in August:

#5 – Angie Buhl (D) versus Kathy Miles (I)

This one is interesting because it involves an incumbent Democratic Legislator being taken on by the person she beat in the preceding primary, who is running as an independent. As opposed to there being bad blood between them directly, it’s more a case of currently the most disliked Democrat currently in the State Senate, being challenged by one who was fairly well liked by people on both sides of the aisle.

Being admonished in committee for her lack of decorum, and using over the top political rhetoric as standard operating procedure hasn’t earned Senator Buhl much respect among her peers. Compare that to Kathy Miles, who would sometimes break party lines on issues, and had cordial relations with State Senators on both sides of the aisle.

Personal style aside, you also have the composition of the legislative district which they are competing in, the Cathedral District of Sioux Falls.  You have Kathy Miles, a practicing Catholic, versus Angie Buhl, who according to this You Tube Video, doesn’t practice so much anymore.

Buhl won one of the lowest primary turnouts in recent history, beating miles by 122 votes  in a primary decided by fewer than 700 people. Watch for the turnout to be higher, and for people motivated to go to work for Miles.

#4 – Tim Begalka (R) versus Steve Street (D)

After being termed out of the House, House Minority Whip Steve Street is looking to make the move to the State Senate, taking on Incumbent State Senator Tim Begalka.

This district has traditionally been a mixed party district at best, being either represented by one or two members of wither party, depending on the way the wind was blowing that election, and Steve Street has had a consistent run as a Democratic State Representative.

Since winning a primary election victory over House Majority Leader Val Rausch, Begalka, identified as a tea-party Republican, has let his passions run hot and has chosen to chastise the people who supported his opponent, as opposed to bringing them into his orbit to solidify his victory.

This might be a mistake, as elections are won by addition, and not subtraction. It’s a very winnable race for him, but Begalka needs all hands and all votes on board in this competitive district.

Watch for Democrats to put funds and effort into this race. If Begalka wants to win, he needs to run the effective ground game he did in the primary, but he also needs a solid block of Republicans as his base.

#3 – Jim White (R) versus Chris Studer (D)

Huron is one of those hated places for Republicans. Why? There is little electoral consistency. For years, it used to be a stronghold of Republican votes. Then literally overnight, it became a black hole for the GOP.   The Rounds years have helped that significantly, since he was related to most of the residents, but it’s still a very competitive town.

Jim White spent one term in the House before moving over to the Senate to attempt to take over Tom Hansen’s slot, so his familiarity with the electorate is still somewhat limited.  Democrats have been touting Chris Studer, (co-chair of last months’ state democrat fake convention and this months’ real one) as one of their up and comers, so odds are they aren’t going to let him fall on his face.

But by the same token, given that he’s newer, and he’s making the leap to the Senate, I’d anticipate the GOP will match the Democrats dollar for dollar.  Competitive district, new candidate versus a newer one on a seat that’s currently held by the GOP, I’d peg this as one of the races to watch.

#2 – Al Novstrup (R) versus Paul Dennert (D)

There’s a pattern here of the competitive challenges being in competitive districts. And for Republicans, it doesn’t get more competitive than the Democratic stronghold of Aberdeen.

Both candidates in this race are electoral forces, Novstrup destroying his competition in 2010 by a margin of 60-40%, and in the last house race, Dennert left his next closest competitor behind by about 600 votes, and the next one about 150 more. Clearly, both men know how to campaign.

The advantage in this race is automatically Novstrup’s, because unlike Dennert, he lives in the district, and Dennert had to move into it after redistricting.  But, redistricting is much like hitting a big reset button, so everyone is dealing with newness and confusion.

When I look at races, I’m mindful of demographics, but more concerned with how strong the competitors will campaign. To me that’s the indicator. And I see this one as a knock down drag-out.

They both know how to campaign, and they both will. And both parties will be very interested in the outcome.

#1 – Tim Rave (R) versus Dan Ahlers (D)

This is the race that has everything. It is a grudge match from last election. It has tighter party registration margins after redistricting. It’s at the edge of the biggest media market in the state.  And it has the added attraction of one of the competitors being the State Republican Party chairman.

Last election, Dan Ahlers ran a middling campaign, doing silly things like a last minute attack on Rave for being pro-life…  in a largely catholic or otherwise religious conservative district. At the same time, Tim Rave’s campaign was hitting on all cylinders, and brought in significant enough margins in Hanson and McCook to offset a 300 vote deficit in Minnehaha county.

This year, same competitors looking at the mistakes and successes of last year, while at the same time, Rave has to bear the burden of helming the SDGOP.It’s inescapable that when you’re the chair, you get the phone calls.

As far as the opposition is concerned this makes the race more about bragging rights, and less about good governance. They want to take Rave out.

Watch for money to go into this race on the Democrat’s side. Rave has to walk a tightrope in his own race to separate party affairs from those of his district, so he possibly isn’t as vocal as he could be.

But with as many friends as he has willing to go to work for him, he can make it up by running a well-oiled effort, that builds on the successes of his victory in 2010.

OK – That’s my take on Top Five South Dakota State Senate Races – Early August Edition. Thoughts, comments, honorable mentions? You have the floor.

18 Replies to “Top Five South Dakota State Senate Races – Early August Edition”

  1. Spencer

    Angie Buhl’s campaign strategy: large sums of out-of-state money + tons of backstabbing and dirty tactics + very low turnout elections = success. I think Angie Buhl’s community organizing is going to be facing too many voters this November…far more than she can possibly buy off with her ActBlue dollars.

  2. Anonymous

    Welke vs Fryslie is a potential dem pickup.

    Rave is safe, Novstrup should prevail fairly strongly, White looks tough, Begalka and Street is a toss up as is Miles and Buhl.

  3. Anonymous

    Begalka versus Street will be interesting. Volga and Sinai were added to District 4 in redistricting. It is a new area for both candidates but a very Republican area that could tip the scales in favor of Begalka.

  4. Tim Begalka

    I find your comments about me offensive and untrue. If I ever let my passions run hot it is when people say untrue things about me. Sure,I was a little perturbed before the election when “people in high places” endorsed my opponent. But I was complimented by several people,including a member of the Governor’s staff,for the classy way I handled it. Then,after I won by such a large margin I was happy and relieved, and I don’t recall chastising anyone (until now) ! Also, I was “identified as a tea-party Republican”? By whom ???

    1. PP at the SDWC

      Tim, why would you take my comments as “offensive and untrue?” They were certainly not meant in that vein.

      My comments were based on some of the commentary you’ve made on facebook after the election over endorsements. Are you saying you’ve asked for and received the support of your opponent in the primary? If so, please note that, and I’ll gladly stand corrected.

      If you are saying that you are not a tea party republican, then you ought to say something to tea party members that are calling you one of their own, or are you telling us that you don’t agree with their issues? There were certainly scorecards, and postcards sent touting you as the more conservative choice.

      It is not as if I’m the only one noticing it, either. From the Argus: “The tea party endorsed Begalka, and Daugaard endorsed Rausch, who got whipped by a 2-1 margin. Rausch probably was doomed from the start. And his toppling would have been a much beloved event among the tea party, who consider him and other Republican leaders to be traitors. But throw in the fact that Daugaard had endorsed him, and it turned out to be frosting on the cake for the tea party.”

    1. PP at the SDWC Post author

      Zach, I’m illustrating reasons why I think his race isn’t going to be a cakewalk. Nothing more, and nothing less.

  5. Sullivan

    What about Tidemann-Merchant?

    That race is going to be huge, and will have great implications for Brookings. Tidemann is very effective for SDSU and Brookings at large. Merchant, on the other hand, always seemed flailing and incoherent.

  6. Tim Begalka

    So I’m racking my brain trying to think of anything I said or wrote after the primary that would disenfranchise any of my voters. So I looked at my old Facebook posts and the only comments that would remotely fit that description were derogatory statements I made relating to links dealing with Pat Powers and his former boss,the Sec of State(neither of whom vote in my district). (Anyone is welcome to look at the posts). They dealt with the conflicts of interest and apparent lack of unbiased integrity in the sec of states office (the ones who are in charge of all elections in SD). I would have had those same feelings even if I hadn’t been running for anything,and they had nothing to do with my opponent. As you know,Powers conveniently resigned his position there during the Attorney General’s investigation,and all the negative publicity he was receiving from many sides. Coincidentally,my primary opponent purchased his expensive,ineffective campaign postcards from Powers,who was running his campaign business on the side while working at the SOS office.
    As for tea party support,it’s obvious that I was the more conservative choice,and they weren’t going to endorse a “leader” who had aggressively worked against them. I didn’t go out and seek the support or endorsement of anyone or any group,other than the Republican voters in my district.

    1. PP at the SDWC Post author

      Tim, my work only looks expensive, because of the high quality materials, and my eye towards layout and design specifically for political candidates honed by 24 years experience.

      – “Shameless plug” PP.

  7. Hold the Phone

    Tim, you brought bills to raise taxes and voted AGAINST the balanced budget? More conservative? More conservative than who, Tad Perry?

    1. Les

      And you were one who voted for the balanced budget two years running while it siphoned dollars(3 Mil +) from the Aero Fund, just because you have the authority, not because it is right as many of your peers have told me? Of the 140 surplus, where is the 100 in 12?

  8. Tim Begalka

    The Phone guy is generally correct. I did bring a bill to temporarily raise the sales tax by a half cent (in 2011, in order to help reduce the proposed 10% cuts to education and medicaid). I did vote against the general spending bill that year,not because it was balanced,but because the cuts were deeper than needed and I knew we’d have plenty of money left over. I have recently been proven correct. The three deepest cuts that I recall being most upset about were cuts to county veterans services offices,the extension service/4-H, and not fulfilling our obligations to nationally certified teachers.

    1. Les

      Speaking of raising taxes, Angie, Kathy, Tim, Steve, Jim, Cris, Al, Paul, Tim and Dan, why is our legislature against raising the fuel tax.
      1. Farmers have an offroad break.
      2. Interstate(traffic transiting our state on all roads) traffic would play a major role in sharing our state maintanance burden.
      3. SD hasn’t raised fuel taxes in 100 years, more or less.
      4. Costs of road maintanance have skyrocketed while our vehicles have become more efficient using less mpg so less fuel tax per mile.
      5. Granny wouldn’t have all those vehicle fee’s increased on her 100 miles per year and would be able to tythe $5.00 instead of $2.50 per week.
      6. Guys like me would have to cough up some change from our 100,000 miles per year, but we have to run so really don’t pay any attention to the price at the pump.
      7. Our major industries are tourism and ag both requiring good roads and sooner than later SD has to realize Uncle doesn’t have the resources to continue the handouts. I hope we have a semblance of roads left at that point.

      Back on topic Tim B, congrats on the big win, many of us felt it was a win for South Dakota.

  9. Charlie Hoffman

    Senator Vehle has worked extremely hard on the costs of maintaining our highway infastructure. You are right on all points Les and we need to do something as Federal monies are going to diminish. Two years ago the legislature did allow an increase for license plate fees for counties. A minimum tax per gallon with an automatic maximum of 10% of every gallon would be a start. Too bad we did not do this four years ago when gas was under two bucks a gallon. Today with say $3.50 gas the tax would be 35 cents a gallon and the minimum would be stuck at say 25 cents which would be a three cent increase at todays tax rate. Many states are over 25 cents a gallon today with a few over 30 cents.


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