You’d think the 2016 elections were all but a foregone conclusion at this point with there being no challengers to John Thune, Kristi Noem or Chris Nelson. (Not that it isn’t, because the Democrats aren’t going to dig anyone up to beat them, if they can get candidates at all.) So, many of us who are in the business of prediction and prognostication are looking ahead to the races in 2018.
Sidestepping the overtly political races at the state level, there is another big race that’s going to be up with an open seat – the “non-partisan” Office of Sioux Falls Mayor. Democratic Mayor Mike Huether, who many people think will be convinced by his inflated ego to run for Governor, will be termed out of office leaving an open seat.
And you can tell that it’s an open seat by the number of people who are rumored to be lining up to run for the office. Already there’s talk of candidate jockeying and jostling behind the scenes taking meetings with each other, and having coffee as they subtly try to convince each other not to bother, as they’d be the better candidate.
So, who is widely rumored to be considering the job?
While this is a non-partisan municipal race, don’t kid yourself. It’s anything but non-partisan, and this has been exacerbated during Huether’s tenure. And the battle lines are often drawn this way with major blocs of voters falling along those lines.
On the Republican side of the coin, three major contenders stick out;
- Sioux Falls Entrepreneur Paul Ten Haken, Owner of Click Rain.
- Former Councilman Pat Costello, who currently serves as Commissioner of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
- Current Councilor Greg Jamison, who ran for the office in 2014 against Huether.
And on the Democratic Side, we have four people rising to the top of contention:
- Sioux Falls City Councilor Kenny Anderson, Jr.
- Sioux Falls Businessman and political consultant Steve Hildebrand.
- Sioux Falls City Councilor Michelle Erpenbach
- Former City Councilor and Huether right hand man Darrin Smith.
There are other names floating around out there, but none that seem to rise to the level of being taken seriously, or they actively disavow any interest in running, such as former legislator Christine Erickson who is in her first term of office.
How should we look at the current field? On the Republican side, all have their own strengths. Ten Haken would be considered a breath of fresh air; the millennial candidate who could capture the fancy of those looking for a fresh face in politics. Jamison brings experience and name ID in running for the office. And – not to go out on a limb – but at first blush, Pat Costello would likely bring the strongest fundraising acumen.
On the Democrat side, there’s a lot less to get excited about. There’s not a lot of vocal sentiment for Darrin Smith to take over for Huether. In fact, his current position as Huether’s majordomo might kill his chances in the mayoral hunt.
Neither Anderson nor Erpenbach seem to bring any dynamic campaign elements to the race. And any ability of Erpenbach to tap into old Daschle donors would be countered if Hildebrand got into the race.
It’s hard to judge if Hildebrand will commit, as he has instances of talking about running but never moving past talk, such as against Stephanie Herseth. If he does move past talk, Hildebrand might be the strongest contender on the Democratic side. And he’d likely be the most polarizing, with people taking strong sides on everything from everything from his advocacy for Democrats to his personal life.
Here’s where the voting bloc in this non-partisan race who tends to go Republican needs to pay attention.
In 2010, your typical Republicans were faced with a choice of Mike Huether who pretended to run as a Republican businessman type and political gadfly Kermit Staggers. Many in the business community weren’t enamored with Staggers, questioning how he friendly he’d be to business, and voted the other way or stayed home.
And here we are five years later still lamenting the fact.
If Hildebrand is the strongest Democrat by far, and the rest of the “D” side of the equation is full of “not ready for prime-time players,” as they seem to be, Republicans need to be careful about fragmenting that bloc of voters, as that could place things more up in the air than may be comfortable.
It may force Republicans to come together as a group, and do a better job in supporting their candidate than they did 8 years ago, lest there be another 8 years of providing a stage for Democrats in Sioux Falls.