Credit Heidepriem with calling on his GOP challengers in the South Dakota governor's race to debate... and credit Dennis Daugaard and David Knudson for already accepting. The Heidepriem folks have issued a press release saying that Knudson has accepted at least three debates in September and October and possibly a total of eight debates around the state. Daugaard sounds ready to go balls to the wall, accepting Heidepriem's challenge to a debate on June 15, just one week after the GOP primary. Daugaard also plans at least three debates in the fall, plus the State Fair and DakotaFest. Rock on!
Daugaard's acceptance is particularly intriguing. Like Knudson, he gives the easy answer of "Sure, I'll debate," and avoids giving Heidepriem an easy political hammer. (Darn—guess I'll have to send my chicken suit back.) But Daugaard shows even more moxie and takes Heidepriem's full offer, including the early debate.
What, no dickering? What does this move say? Here are my five reads, in descending order of importance and credibility:
- Daugaard knows he's got the primary in the bag and is ready to pivot to hammering on Heidepriem.
- Daugaard knows he doesn't have the general in the bag and needs to start hammering on Heidepriem. Someone 30 points ahead could afford to play haughty and decline to dignify Heidepriem with more than a minimum of side-by-side stage/camera time. Even if the Daugaard people think they have the general in the bag, they are too thorough (or superstitious) to play the frontrunner.
- Daugaard wants to shift attention from any lingering animosity from the five-way primary to unite the party, including any sour-grapes Sioux Falls Republicans who might slide from Knudson to Heidepriem. Holding a debate right after the primary says to party wafflers, "So you voted for Knudson, and Knudson lost. Get over it. Time for the main event—let's beat some Dems!"
- Daugaard is looking across ticket (Dennis is a nice guy; he does think of others) and setting a precedent for the GOP challengers to draw Herseth Sandlin out. GOPers have already made some hay criticizing SHS for not coming out to health care meetings and other public forums last year. Correct or not, it sure sounds good. Team Daugaard may be saying to Teams Nelson, Noem, and Curd, "Get ready, challenge SHS to debates, get all the stage time you can with her!" All three GOP challengers get a boost in ethos from appearing on the same stage as the sitting Congresswoman.
- Absolute skullduggery: Daugaard secretly supports SHS, knowing we need a Dem in Congress to get the Speaker's and President's ears and bring home the bacon. Daugaard knows SHS will eat anti-pork posers Noem and Curd alive in head-to-head policy debates... and he wants to set an example that they will foolishly follow. (Nelson might hold his own on policy... but Daugaard knows that when Nelson gets done pandering to the hardcore wingnut primary voters, he'll settle down and be a pragmatist again, so Daugaard isn't worried about him.)