I suspect there will be two stories that will dominate discussions of both Republican and Democratic true believers in the morning. The first is Tim Johnson's $200,000 gift to the South Dakota Democratic party. The second is Rick Weiland's decision to challenge Mike Rounds on EB-5.
Neither event should surprise anyone. Tim Johnson, who tonight reminded the audience that he is South Dakota's longest serving Democrat, likely doesn't want to be the last Democrat South Dakota elects to the United States Senate. The EB-5 imbroglio is a chink in Rounds's armor, and Weiland would be foolish not to attempt to exploit it. Tonight, he did a fairly good job of simplifying the story as well. Weiland took on the program not just alleged mismanagement of the program: "To sell residency to rich foreigners, as my opponent aggressively advocated throughout his tenure as Governor, and in a debate just this Spring, is not economic development, it is government enabled extortion, and it is wrong," Weiland said.
The major question I had this morning as I sat down to begin taking notes during Bernie Hunhoff's address was simple: can any of the Democrats at the top of the ballot give themselves a puncher's chance? In fact, I was wondering if any of them even knew how to throw a punch, let alone one that landed and would be scored.
Tonight Rick Weiland, Susan Wismer, and Corinna Robinson convinced me that each can deliver a solid, effective punch..
Weiland, Wismer, and especially Robinson need Ann Tornberg to put on her speech and debate coach hat and work with them on their delivery a bit. (When Tornberg coached at Beresford, she produced some of the best orators I have ever judged in my 20 years on the South Dakota high school debate circuit.) Robinson did, however, convince me that she knows how to tell her story in a way that will prevent Kristi Noem from reprising the sorts of ads and YouTube videos she used to mock Matt Varilek. Robinson was particularly effective in dismissing the difficulty of unseating Noem when she said "tough is hugging your sons good-bye before going on yet another deployment."
I generally hate politicians' use of a friend or relative to tell an Horatio Alger story or a "win just one more for the Gipper" tale. Susan Wismer, however, delivered that sort of anecdote and I didn't start cursing. In fact, I found the story of a church full of people returning from out of state to honor a man at his funeral rather telling. Further, Wismer was able to simply categorize Governor Daugaard's economic development efforts as "bringing in out-of-state companies with an out-of-state work force."
Weiland seems much more comfortable in his own skin and much better able to deliver the populist rhetoric than he was last summer. Weiland mentioned his appreciation for the late Paul Wellstone and Wellstone's skills as a campaigner. Tonight, however, Wieland reminded me of another United States Senator from Minnesota, Hubert Humphrey who was called "The Happy Warrior." Weiland seems to be thoroughly enjoying the campaign.
Each of these candidates is still an underdog and each will have to hope that their Republican opponent makes an unforced error or two. Before this evening, I was fairly convinced that none of them could take advantage of any error their opponents might make. After their performance tonight, I believe each can.
My favorite political color is purple. I'm certain that some Democrats in Hawaii or California display the same hubris and sense of entitlement that some South Dakota Republicans exhibit. I'm also not an optimist by nature. Every glass I own is half empty and cracked. There will not be a blue tide in November, but Democrats have a puncher's chance of preventing a blood red November.That's a better chance than I thought they had this morning.