Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Minor Musing About The New York Times Analysis Of The South Dakota Senate Race

This New York Times article about actual and potential Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate  has been getting a lot of play in the South Dakota blogosphere. Madville Times argues that the article illustrates "some of us Dems want to hear a solid Wellstonian candidate. . . South Dakota is not as conservative as those afraid to wear the Dem label believe."

Dakota War College writes, "it is inconceivable that Weiland is a serious candidate and Rick Weiland is a placeholder for a better candidate to jump in the race later down the line."

Political Smokeout reports there's a slim chance South Dakota State Senator Jason Frerichs may challenge Rich Weiland for the Democratic nomination.

I confess the Jason Eligon Times piece provides me far more questions than answers.

First, there's the most basic question of all: has liberalism made any dent in South Dakota’s conservatism? I know the Ellis-Howie fringe believe that South Dakota's more establishment Republicans are to Karl Marx's political left, but that analysis lacks credible evidence. It's still an open question how liberal a candidate can be and remain successful.

Second, there's a question about framing. The article quotes Matt McLarty who says, “I think they can respect that you’re a Democrat and you have a certain perspective, just as long as you don’t go full-blown Nancy Pelosi on them." Therein lies the cliched rub; if Stephanie Herseth Sandlin who voted against Obama's health care reform can be drowned with the Nancy Pelosi anchor, is there a South Dakota Democrat with the political skills to avoid being portrayed as a "full-blown Nancy Pelosi"?

Third, do candidates stands on issues and policies really matter or is it all perception? The Times ticks off a list voter actions that would seem to indicate South Dakota voters are less conservative than Republicans may believe:
It is a state in which residents have twice voted by wide margins to repeal bans on abortion passed by the State Legislature. Voters also recently increased the cigarette tax, passed an indoor smoking ban, and killed the Republican governor’s education reform bill, which would have weakened tenure for teachers and tied their ratings to student performance. And Democrats note that although South Dakota’s voters approved a same-sex marriage ban, they did so by a narrower margin (3.7 percent) than California’s (4.6 percent).
The voters may have moderate or even liberal views on some issues, but legislative candidates' votes on those issues don't seem to matter. I'm hard pressed to think of a Republican incumbent who lost a seat for supporting HB 1234, the education bill. On the other hand Herseth Sandlin loses even though she had a record of conservative votes.

Finally, there's a simple question about candidates. Eligon writes,
In a state with just over 530,000 voters, experts say that personality plays a big role in candidates’ success, and Republicans in recent years have simply put up candidates who connected with voters better.
I probably should go look at some numbers to confirm this point, but Republicans have a nearly insurmountable advantage West River. Can Democrats can field statewide candidates who win enough votes East River to counter Republicans' West River advantage?

If anyone has answers or I missed a Republican who suffered for one of the votes the Times mentions, let me know in the comments.

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