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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

South Dakota Primary Prediction 2: Nelson 42%

Yesterday I commented on the striking opposition between the portraits South Dakota's two largest newspapers painted of Secretary of State Chris Nelson. I mentioned that Nelson would win today's GOP House primary 45–28–27. Like almost everyone else, I'm much less certain about this race than the gov's race, so I hereby exercise my right to change my mind... just a little:
  1. Chris Nelson 42%
  2. Kristi Noem 31%
  3. R. Blake Curd 27%
A bunch of Republicans are going to walk into the voting booth tomorrow knowing the U.S. House race is their chance to really kick the Dems in the teeth. Winning the governor's office for the ninth straight time is no big deal. Beating Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is Kool and the Gang cranked. Republicans have their best shot at beating SHS since before Janklow went to prison. They don't want to screw it up.

So the Republicans will look at that ballot and pick the person they know is best equipped to win that race. They won't pick the rich Sioux Falls doctor (who didn't move to South Dakota until this decade) any more than they'll pick the rich Sioux Falls lawyer for governor. They won't pick the Castlewood ranch gal who brings a better narrative but started late and is still a newcomer to the big show. They'll pick the guy they know. They'll pick Chris Nelson, the guy who's won two statewide elections, who's been to their Lincoln Day dinners for years, and who's primed to neutralize SHS's biggest advantage aside from incumbency: the nice factor.

Now there may be Republican chess players who grumble that Nelson hasn't worked hard enough to win this primary and to show he's serious. But those chess players also know Nelson isn't stupid. He's like Obama against Clinton in 2008: Obama knew he didn't need to win every state; he just needed a few more delegates than Clinton. Nelson knows he could spend a whole whack of money to beat Noem and Curd hard. But why make the primary unnecessarily bloody when he can save his strength, win on points against the Republican upstarts, and save his big donor haymakers for the main event against Queen Dem?

Still doubt Nelson will get serious about fundraising against SHS? Check a small clue in Nelson's word choice:

"Understand, I'm a fiscal conservative. That's not just a word for me. It's how I operate. That's how we're operating the campaign," Nelson said. "We're going to spend less money than the other two campaigns, no question about it" [emphasis mine; Chet Brokaw, "Chris Nelson Aims to Win GOP House Race on the Cheap," AP via Rapid City Journal, 2010.05.17].

Nelson was talking about winning on the cheap in the primary. Tomorrow morning, contented Republican donors will wake to the pleasant buzz of GOP-dominated headlines, followed by the ringing of their phones. It will be Chris Nelson, saying, "Good morning, friend! It's time to write that check."

I could be wrong. Just like my Republican friends, I recognize they have their best shot since 2004 at the House seat. Deep down, I may be convincing myself Nelson is the least-bad Republican and thus convincing myself he's going to win the primary and spare us South Dakota's own Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul.

Am I seeing what is, or just what I want to see? Let's run the experiment and find out. Republicans, feel free to surprise me.

We Dems do enjoy reading our neighbors' tea leaves. Badlands Blue picks Nelson, too, 40–30–30.

1 comment:

  1. I applaud you for making a prediction. I've been around politics for over 30 years and never have I had so much confusion on how GOP primaries might turn out.

    I can't figure out who benefits from high or low voter turn-out. For every scenario I imagine for one candidate to win, I can imagine one for another.

    All I can predict is linkage:

    A strong performance by Dauguard and Nelson means Republicans in South Dakota want stability and known quantities.

    A strong performance by Knudson and Curd means Republicans in South Dakota want policy wonks to represent them.

    A strong performance by Munsterman and Noem means Republicans in South Dakota want new fresh faces.

    And, finally, I think Republicans just want this over. In all my years in politics, I've never seen them so ready to just have a horse to ride. They like all six of these candidates and only those personally close to one candidate is there any concern about any of the candidates. Unless Howie gets over 15%, uniting the party behind whoever the horse is will be as easy as I've ever seen it.


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