The political winds are blowing at close to gale force at the backs of the GOP and into the face of the Democrats. It is very safe to say that Democrats are going to have a terrible electoral year.
The cause and ultimately the blame will be President Obama.
Citizens are worried about the economy, jobs, and particularly the deficit. Surprisingly health care reform that was shoved down the throats of a skeptical and divided nation seems more like a symptom than a cause of voter anger.
The shift in political winds has had a profound effect on the At Large U S House election in South Dakota.
During the primary election campaign, I believed the SD GOP had three very good candidates. In terms of articulating the issues and offering solutions I believed Kristi Noem was the weakest. I thought Chris Nelson and Dr. Curd better articulated the issues. In the end while I thought Nelson would pull out the win, I was not surprised Kristi Noem won. Her gender was a clear distinction and she had the organization and financial support of many activists in the Thune Camp. (I have believed for many years that Women make good candidates.) This is nuanced as nearly 100% of South Dakota GOP activists are in the Thune Camp. Particularly helpful to Noem were the Women for Thune group that worked so diligently for Thune in 2004. They were feeling their oats as a few of the Women for Thune had been in Massachusetts last January working for Scott Brown to win the Ted Kennedy seat, and they returned fired up to put our House Seat in the GOP column. Kristi became their cause. Contrary to suggestions in blogosphere I do not believe that Senator Thune or any of his staffers (campaign or otherwise were involved.)
Polling by Rasmussen has shown for sometime that Stephanie HS is facing a real battle this election cycle. She has the Democrat base and those supporters who have been with her now thru four elections. But she has lost much of her GOP support and the important Independents that supported her in past elections and Barack Obama in 2008. The effected GOP and Independent voters now want another Change.
The latest polling by Rasmussen Reports shows Noem with a 51% to 42% advantage, and on Friday (August 20) the non partisan, call them like you see them, and usually right, Charlie Cook calls the Noem / Herseth Sandlin a toss up.
Without question, the US House race in South Dakota will be the Marquis election in 2010. I suspect that toss up is right. Kristi Noem has the momentum and Republican voters are energized, Democrats are despondent. However Herseth Sandlin as well as the National Democrats has dusted off the Social Security card. In the past this has been a very effective play for them (blaming Republican candidates for wanting to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.) Given the current state of the House race, the seniors will be the deciding factor in who wins.
A smaller factor in the race is Thomas Marking the Independent candidate. Marking presents some interesting ideas, seems to be a Conservative with a Libertarian bent. He will get some attention but not real traction. His one to four percent of the vote will come from what would otherwise be Noem voters. I will get back to the Social Security issue and debate this past two weeks, after just setting up a few preliminaries
Prelims – Herseth Sandlin is well known, very articulate, a skillful debater, has battled in close elections (Janklow and Diedrich), and is popular. On the downside, last year she seemed to be off her political game. She did not do open events. To the extent she touched her constituents, everything was very controlled. Certainly part of it was the public mood (she wanted to avoid confrontation and the Tea Party) but some element was her desire to be with her infant son when the Congress was out of Session. Her voting on the big issues in the last two years has not followed any distinct pattern. She voted against TARP twice, for the Obama Stimulus package, against Cap and Trade, and against the Health Care Reform bill. To avoid a primary she apparently has promised not to work for health care reform repeal.
Mrs. Noem won the primary election. She has served in the Leadership but in four Sessions not notably led on any Statewide “hot political” issues where she distinguished herself as Mrs. Go To on an issue. In her advertising she ran heavily against Washington, DC and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Politically this bothers me on several levels. While Kristi is running against Washington she has travelled there seeking National Party support and money. It is an assumption on my part but if the past is any indication she is probably accepting money from other GOP Congressional Leadership PACs. Perhaps national GOP figures will come here to campaign for her. Is this an anti Washington message? Send me there and I will become part of the team.
The other Noem statement that “gets to me” is her saying she can not support the San Francisco limousine liberal, Nancy Pelosi. Foremost, the voters that Noem needs to win over for the most part do not know who Pelosi is. They do know President Obama is who they don’t like and the GOP should save their fire for him. The claim is made that Stephanie votes with Nancy 95% of the time. That is probably true but which votes? Does that include only roll call votes or procedural and voice votes as well? For comparison, what percentage of the time does House Minority Leader, John Boehner, 65% or 75%? Noem repeatedly claims she will not vote to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House. Well of course not!
The only vote that a Congressional Candidate (House or Senate) owes their party is to support their Caucus’ nominee for leadership.
In watching the day to day soap opera of national government and politics we sometimes forget that the Legislative Branch of Government (The Congress) is Bi-Partisan and is organized by the two major political parties. The Majority Party organizes the government. The Speaker of the U S House of Representatives organizes the Committees, and oversees the apparatus by which legislation proceeds. The majority rules.
Thus when a person becomes a candidate for a partisan ballot and declares they are a Republican or a Democrat they owe it to their party’s voters to support their party when organizing the government. Otherwise in all other matters, they represent all of their constituents regardless of party by doing in their judgment what is best for the common good.
The Debates, Social Security, and Medicare – Both Candidates have faced off now several times in the past two weeks. I will comment on the two that I watched on the Internet, Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls on August 11 and Dakotafest in Mitchell on August 17.
If you watched the Sioux Empire Fair debate and were unfamiliar with the issues, the candidates, and the politics, you would have easily determined that the more strident, voice raised, finger pointing Herseth was trailing in the polls. Kristi Noem was calm and collected and accounted for herself and made no gaffes. Herseth however did lay a glove on her a couple of times and began positioning Kristi on the Social Security issue. The first time was in response to being question on the vote the day before to spend more for teachers and supplements for health care to Seniors. Herseth Sandlin said used her replied that South Dakota caregivers, nursing institutions, and Seniors themselves had contacted her about lost benefits and lost jobs. Kristi did not respond. In the second instance when questioned about her Stimulus vote, Herseth responded very directly to the GOP candidate that the GOP in Pierre had deficit spent for 7 of the last 8 years and in fact had used the Stimulus dollars that Noem was criticizing to balance the budget. Noem did respond saying that had South Dakota not used the dollars some other State would have.
Thus began the positioning of Noem as not a friend of Seniors. In the next few days both campaigns continued to position themselves and their opponent on the issues.
Stephanie claiming that Noem would cut payments to Seniors or supports privatizing social security (I continue to think this is not a bad idea if properly constructed and with proper oversight. - a complicated issue for another time perhaps. Social Security today is a Ponzi scheme that would embarrass Bernie Madoff.).
Kristi took a pledge of her own promising to protect Seniors and promising to repeal Obamacare that cuts Medicare funding. Unfortunately, the problem is the more Kristi talks about that Stephanie is lying about her position; she is talking about it instead of Congress or President Obama.
At the Dakotafest debate there were more charges and counter charges but this time Kristi punched back and refused to be labeled. Kristi Noem accounted for herself well on issues and presence. She looked like a Congresswoman.
Sidebar – While the debates were pointed it was for the most parts on issues. This was not a catfight. They did however demonstrate why a man running against a woman is at a disadvantage another woman is not at. My observation in the Herseth Sandlin losing effort to Bill Janklow in 2002, Janklow was careful to not be critical of his opponent.
Just a quick note on Stephanie and seniors -They are her secret group. When she campaigned in 2002 she seemed like she was at every senior center in South Dakota. Perhaps she just found it easy to campaign there or she genuinely wanted to build this coalition. (Note to the Noem campaign – go to a few of these also and remind the seniors what Obama and deficits are doing for their grandchildren.) Stephanie has not forgotten them. Remember the advertising in 2008 with Herseth Sandlin playing the piano for the Democrats and Republicans that supported her? Mrs. HS has worked this group and will be all over them this time. You can also expect to see her telegenic Grandpa pitching on her behalf again this year.
And back and forth it will go. I expect there will be money coming in on both sides talking about Medicare, Social Security, and Health Care. Stephanie will try to keep Kristi in the box and Kristi must get out. If the debate is not changed, the current Noem lead may evaporate.
The Senior vote is important and critical to winning. Larry Pressler in the mid 1980s and early 1990s was a hero to Senior Citizens. By the 1996 election against Tim Johnson, unfortunately many of his earlier supporters had passed away. In 1986 in the very close Abdnor Daschle Senate election, the weekend before the election (before dialer calls)the Daschle campaign attempted )and completed many) to call every Senior Citizen in the State and tell them that Jim Abdnor had voted to cut Social Security. It has happened before and the stage is being set for history to repeat itself.
At the end of the day, this election will not be a beauty contest and despite the political winds, it will be hard fought close election. Maybe not a Johnson v Thune but a nail biter.