These numbers seem reasonable. Russell Olson is better known and better liked. Those who know and like a guy are more inclined to forgiveness toward that guy. Additionally, Olson's crimes—speeding, failure to stop, failure to appear, open container, simple assault—happened mostly when he was in his 20s and fall into that fuzzy category we reserve for crimes of the young and stupid. Schmidtke's guilty plea to three counts of theft occurred in his 40s and involved misuse of checkbooks of elderly folks placed in his care.
In 2006, the last off-year election, Democratic District 8 Senator Dan Sutton beat Republican challenger John Toates 57% to 43%. Sutton had just been hit with allegations of improper conduct with a male page at least as scandalous as the charges against Schmidtke. In the face of those charges, the relatively quiet Toates was able to get 43% of the district to mark his name. And this was with Sutton supporters still able to say, "Innocent until proven guilty."
In 2008, Olson beat a much stronger Democratic contender, Scott Parsley, 55% to 45%. Schmidtke, with less money, less name recognition, and fewer connections than Parsley, was probably headed pre-scandal for a 40% finish. Speculating wildly from the above poll results, I'm going to guess that Schmidtke's court record loses him two votes for every one Olson's court record loses him. Not helping Schmidtke's situation: the Madison Daily Leader gives Schmidtke's court record front-page coverage on the Friday before the election while making no mention of Olson's court record. A large portion of voters who don't access online media thus have no idea that they will vote for a man with a significant criminal record regardless of which District 8 Senate bubble they fill.
Given Schmidtke has no legislative record or other major connections to counter the bad press, I'll project Olson's margin of victory rises from 60–40 to 70–30.
I will still be voting with that 30.
Russell Olson has enjoyed the benefits of numerous favors from the wealthy and powerful in Madison and South Dakota. His friends in the party of Janklow, Rounds, and Prostrollo handed him comfortable government-related jobs while the ink was still fresh on his court record. Rich Republicans in Madison and across the state have handed him tens of thousands of dollars to buy ads and win elections against much less-well-funded opponents. Russell Olson is where he is because of a lot of favors from a lot of powerful people.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't get the impression Clark Schmidtke has ever gotten much in the way of favors from the rich and powerful. I don't get the impression he moves in those circles. The way he told me his side of the story, the powers that be were looking for a way to get him and forced him to surrender when he couldn't afford to fight.
Now we have Russell Olson, who owes his career to the benevolence of the powers that be, acting as a staunch defender of those powers. He knows that running for office brings risks of public criticism of his past, but he can rely on his wealthy and powerful friends to support him.
And we have Clark Schmidtke, who appears not to have grabbed any gold ring of patronage, challenging the powers that rule South Dakota. He knows that running for office brings risks of public criticism of his past, and he has few wealthy or powerful individuals to speak on his behalf or fill his campaign coffers to splash images of his happy family across the newspapers to counter bad publicity. He knew the past that could be used against him in this campaign could also hurt his business. Yet in the face of that risk, Schmidtke still chose to take on a fight that matters to him, a fight for good government, a fight for better policies on education and health care, a fight against handouts to rich oil corporations.
Clark, I have no wealth, no power to offer you. I have only my vote, and a little blog post that may redound against you as much as it will redound against me (especially if there are any more surprises). Oh well. I've faced worse. So have you, Clark.
I can't guarantee I'll bring anyone else along. But Clark, you have my vote.