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Notes from the Campaign Trail

Nov. 26, 2022

Now, nearly three weeks after the election, I have gained enough perspective to speak dispassionately about my loss. That’s not true. I’m still bitter, very bitter. Okay, maybe not bitter but at regretful, like most of us who lost. I’m regretful and bitter. I say this but I haven’t talked with my fellow West River democrats to debrief. Soon I hope we can sit down together to discuss what to do next time.

Already, repeatedly, I have been asked about running again. Even though I’m bitter and regretful and angry and tired, I think I will probably run again—mostly because I have all these yard signs in the garage. I also have two large, expensive feather banners that I never put anywhere, except the garage. Walk through our garage and you would vote for me in a minute.

Besides the election paraphernalia, I have reasons to run again. First, I gained valuable experience (that left me puzzled about what I would do differently). Second, I increased my name recognition—or so I say. No one remembers my name. A few might remember my duckweed logo, which is not nothing; trust me, I’m sticking with duckweed. Three, someone has to do it. Not to sound fatalistic, but at very least our side must run candidates in every race to show we are here, we are relevant, that there is an alternative to fascism.

So, then, if I choose to run again (and it appears I have), how can I better persuade an electorate that is by in large intransigent or resistant? For me to win, I need to have a sizable number of republicans cross the party line to vote for me. How can I convince them that the D doesn’t matter? Though I may not know what to do, I know what not to do.

I cannot be a typical candidate, however that is defined. On occasion, I broke the candidate mold—radio spots, two speeches, duckweed logo—but for the most part—from the vantage of a District 30 voter, older and white and working class (whatever that means)—I was more of the same. When I see my campaign photograph (taken by a professional), I cringe because it is an example of old school politics, what I was trying to avoid.

Throughout the campaign, I fell into huge well-worn rut of doing what everyone else has already done. I said I wanted to distinguish myself but regularly behaved like every other candidate, past and present. Everyone has a billboard, better get a billboard. Everyone uses yard signs, better order yard signs. Everyone says they will listen to voters, so I said it too.

Over the course of the campaign five or six media organizations took the time to ask me questions about issues. I appreciated the interest and the opportunity to talk about policy, but none of the substance of the interviews mattered at all. The democratic label, the ideological cloud, preceded me and hung over me so that no republican would bother taking the time to listen to or read what I had to say, to understand how I might be different and not a risk. The fight was over before I got in the ring.

One of the Rapid City TV stations, KEVN, interviewed me and both my opponents, giving each of us five minutes to define ourselves based on five questions. Each of us received the same questions and had the same amount of time to answer those questions, on camera. As painful as it was to listen to my own voice and those of my competitors, I endure the fifteen minutes of direct comparison, the way I would hope any concerned citizen would, and by the end was somewhat encouraged.

Having heard the two of them and me, trying to be as objective as possible, I thought that maybe younger people might find me more appealing. I had doubts about my ability to change the minds of anyone like me, older and whiter. I stood out the most on the issue of crime. I said that crime had increased only in a relatively small number of places (like North Rapid) and that police needed to develop better relationships with people in those areas if they wanted to make a difference. Also, when I asked about growth in the Black Hills, I didn’t answer with a platitude; I talked about water and how managing it would determine future demographic shifts.

As I analyze the campaign, I want to emphasize two things. One, if voting were based on policy and personality, I would have had a chance. Two, these concepts are meaningless in western South Dakota. Until they’re not. Somehow, a democrat (or independent or communist or whoever) must transcend party, rise above the cloud—become a name with fame—to garner enough attention to talk about what really matters.

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