Reflections on the races, issues, and the candidates who made headlines in South Dakota – The South Dakota Standard

Sixth and last in a row for the 2022 election.

Notes from the last few months as the 2022 campaign rolled by…

In my column on Kristi Noem’s potential as a national figure, I downplayed her chances as a running mate, noting that she hails from a reliably red state with only three electoral votes. Why would a presidential candidate need them?

A friend with a good memory and an appreciation for history noticed that other contestants were selected from states with small populations and already established statuses.

In 2000, Texas Gov. George H. Bush selected Dick Cheney, a former Wyoming congressman then living in Texas. Wyoming is one of the most conservative states in the country, and Democrats hardly stand a chance in an election there. Cheney, a former secretary of defense under President George HW Bush, had been asked to review potential running mates for the younger Bush, and he recommended… himself. He reregistered to vote in the Cowboy State to avoid a potential conflict, which may not allow candidates from the same state to serve on a national ticket.

Senator John McCain elected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin 2008, not to secure the frozen state’s three votes, but because he hoped they would fuel his Republican base.

In the same election, Senator Barack Obama backed Delaware’s Senator Joe Biden, although The First State would back the Democratic nominee whoever ran with him.

The fact that South Dakota will vote ad infinitum for the Republican nominee in 2024 and 2028 and on and on shouldn’t ruin Noem’s chances of being tapped for the VP slot.

***

While Democrats took another hit on Election Day, it was also a very bad night for The SDSU survey.

The bipartisan poll released a poll on Oct. 11 reported a tight race for governor.

“Overall Results: Our data shows Gov. Kristi Noem with a 4% lead over rival Sen. Jamie Smith, about the same difference as in the 2018 election. Considering the margin of error for this poll is 4%, this race is pretty close indeed.”

Well, maybe it was close then, but on November 8th Noem won in a landslide62% to 35% for Smith, with libertarian Tracey Quint getting the other 3%.

Ian Fury, who served as Noem’s campaign spokesman during a hiatus from his government job and performed the same function, cast shadows in the SDSU poll during the campaign.

I contacted him after the election and offered him a chance at a victory dance. Instead, he advised me to focus on Governor Noem’s victory speech. But on November 9th he did tweet a triumphant note.

“Good morning to all but the people who believed in ‘The SDSU Poll,'” Fury wrote. Hey, he had every right to be.

The SDSU survey was correct on ballot measures, saying that Medicaid expansion was far ahead and recreational marijuana was slightly behind. Both races just ended like that.

I’m glad we got the survey from my alma mater and look forward to more surveys from it. I bet even Ian will check them out if he’s still working in South Dakota.

***

JamieSmith admits he will miss working at Pierre. Of course he had hoped for a new job next year.

Smith did not run for a fourth term as District 15 representative because he was busy with another campaign.

“I’m definitely going to miss it,” he said. “I will miss the friends I made and the ability to drive an agenda that works for all South Dakotans.”

I asked if he might be allowed to run again in the future, but he was obviously still dealing with the campaign and the crushing defeat.

“Too early to tell,” Smith said. “It demands a lot from a person and their family.”

He believes changes are needed in the way South Dakota campaigns. Smith believes that statewide candidates should be required to participate in multiple debates. Noem agreed only a individual debate during the campaign.

He also thinks there should be changes in campaign finance laws, saying the foreign money flowing into Noem’s coffers allowed her to flood the airwaves with commercials that he felt misrepresented his positions.

It was difficult to sit down and watch those ads play over and over again, Smith said. He’s convinced it’s made a pretty close race to a blowout in recent days as he hasn’t been able to buy ads to counter the attacks on him.

Smith also believes the media needs to do a better job. According to Noem (See photo above by PHELAN M. EBENHACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS, published in The Wall Street Journal) declined to take part in a debate about KELO, but the station still allowed her to sit down for a longer interview. That gave her the chance to put forward her arguments without having to defend them in an open exchange with her opponents, he said.

The debate he participated in was too restrictive, Smith said. I asked him why he didn’t pressure Noem about the “We Take Meth” campaign, paying $200,000 to a federal employee who said she was forced to retire, and other missteps during her first term .

Yes, he said, he could have pushed her harder. But, Smith said, the format of the Sept. 30 debate, sponsored by KOTA Territory News, KEVN Black Hills Fox and Dakota News Now, doesn’t allow him to advance his case.

He also admitted that he was trying to build a reputation and let voters get to know him. Smith is a friendly, outgoing man who wanted South Dakotans to see him as a positive politician.

“That’s the campaign we were trying to run,” he said. “And I think we did.”

Noem has built a national image based on how she has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a dark time, Smith said, with people dying, others seriously ill and tremendous economic struggles. And yet Noem speaks of this time as time of triumph for them and attracted a lot of attention in the national media.

That just doesn’t seem right, he said.

“This was all done because of a pandemic,” Smith said.

He tried to reach the Republicans, and as I have already reported, found South Dakotans who liked him and agreed with him on things. But they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a Democrat.

Something similar has happened with Republican lawmakers he knows, Smith said. Several told him they supported him but could not publicly admit it for fear of repercussions from the party and Noems.

“They said, ‘Jamie, I vote for you, but I can’t support you,'” he said.

Smith admires the fact that open-minded Spencer Gosch House SpeakerHe, who clashed with Noem, praised him during the campaign, saying he’s “a guy that’s really hard not to love.”

But even then, Gosch did not endorse Smith as governor.

***

Smith is an emotional guy, quick with a smile, eager to laugh, and always ready to shake hands or wrap someone in a bear hug. So it was not surprising when he cried during his concession speech.

Losing hurts. I’ve seen it up close many times in four decades of election coverage. A candidate dedicates months, even years, of their life to a campaign, and losing, especially by a large margin, hurts.

I’ve seen candidates and their key advisors drink away their pain. Others become silent and the pain, anger and frustration play on their faces and in their eyes.

On Election night 1980, Sen. George McGovern was in a cold rage after being punched out by Congressman Jim Abdnor. I witnessed firsthand McGovern delivered a fiery speech about his defeat and vowed to set up a liberal organization to fight the rising Conservative tide.

But instead McGovern wrote books, gave speeches, owned and operated a hotelran for the presidency in 1984 – and almost did it again in 1992. He left South Dakota for years, living outside of Washington, DC, in Connecticut and in Montana, where he owned a bookstore, before returning to his home state in his final years.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party in South Dakota grew stronger, as we saw again on November 8th.

Tom Lawrence has written for several newspapers and websites in South Dakota and other states, and has contributed to the New York Times, NPR, The London Telegraph, The Daily Beast, and other media outlets.

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