After a few days, my odds for the District 8 State House race remain the same:
There's been talk that current Representative and now Senate candidate Russell Olson is the rising star of the Republican Party, a young man being groomed for bigger things. Olson has been handed some plum jobs—work in the Governor's Office of Economic Development, then directorship of the Lake Area Improvement Corporation—that gave him an easy platform for building image and connections.
Olson may find himself replaced and outpaced, however, by Fargen, who has been busy building his own political cred. Fargen, a decade younger than Representative Olson, has laid his own groundwork for the District 8 House race. Fargen warmed up for politics with an active career in SDSU Student Senate politics. Currently the SDSU Student Senate is the most active and effective student governing body in the state, and it is turning out a corps of young leaders who are ready to take over South Dakota politics (see also Ryan Brunner).
In his first jump into the big pool, Fargen has built the most active and financially successful of this year's District 8 House campaigns. He has raised $3,600 from PACs, $3,725 in itemized donations, and $8,415 in donations under $100. in other words, Fargen has been able to raise a majority of his campaign finances in small donations, the "ten here, twenty there" small change that takes a lot of time and supporters to raise. Compare this to Russ Olson's debut, his 2006 House campaign, during which Olson raised only $1,533 in donations under $100, less than 10% of the direct donations he received. Olson relies on deep pockets; Fargen relies on lots of pockets.
Fargen has showed the most hustle in our local House race, raising more money from more donors, running more ads, and, most importantly, knocking on more doors than any of his fellow House candidates. He's a dynamic campaigner who also happens to know what he's talking about, especially on ethanol and farm issues. He's demonstrated that he is willing to do the hard work necessary to be a good legislator.
Now certainly, there are some folks who may vote against Fargen just because he's a young rookie, although that didn't stop folks from putting Olson in office last time. Some others will vote against him just because he's a Democrat, although partisan politics don't seem to figure big in a lot of local folks' votes for State Legislature.
But in the context of the candidates he's running against, Fargen's "negatives" (if you can call energetic youth and a party affiliation negatives) are significantly smaller than those of his opponents. Fargen is a strong candidate on his own merits; his odds of winning are increased by the more galvanizing negatives of his opponents. Follow this ballot math:
- On our "pick two of the four" House ballot, Stricherz will be lucky to get 25% (and if folks read her advocacy in the Leader this week of toll roads and school consolidation, that number will be more like 15%). Three out of four District 8 voters will still be asking "Stricherz? Who the heck is that?" and choose among three: Johnson, Lange, and Fargen.
- Some folks will absolutely refuse to vote for Johnson, for political reasons, personal reasons, whatever. Stricherz may get a few of their votes, but the majority of the anti-Johnson camp will be left with Lange and Fargen as their choices.
- Some folks will absolutely refuse to vote for Lange, for political or personal reasons. The political portion of the anti-Lange camp leans GOP anyway and will mark Johnson and/or Stricherz. But the less political among the anti-Langers will tend toward the names/faces they recognize, and that will mean a number of anti-Lange votes going for Johnson and Fargen.
- Folks who pick Stricherz first will come mostly from her homebase in Moody County. That's Fargen's stomping grounds as well; folks who make the geographical choice for Stricherz will tend toward Fargen as well.
- Folks who pick Lange first will tend to be Dems and will pick Fargen second. Lange may also have an edge with farmers, and those folks will lean toward Fargen with his ethanol advocacy and experience with the Farmers Union.
- Folks who pick Johnson first will split 40-40-20, Fargen-Lange-Stricherz.
To make it to the House in District 8, you don't have to be the best; you just have to come in second. Fargen has the strongest campaign in the race, and he has nothing like the negatives dragging down the other candidates. Those factors combined are worth at least a second-place finish, if not a surprise first for the young newcomer. That's why Mitch Fargen is the safest bet to win a seat in the State House for District 8.