Notes from the Campaign Trail

Updated: Nov 20

Nov. 15


To no one’s surprise, including me, I lost. I received about 17% of the total votes cast, coming in third of three. District 30 will, again, send two republicans to the capital to do the governor’s bidding. This isn’t a surprise because I was out-campaigned; just look at the cold, hard numbers of registered voters. In Custer County, heart of the district, there are over 4700 registered republicans and 1100 registered democrats. That’s the hill I had to climb.


When I say I was not out-campaigned, I mean the campaign was over before it started. To my chagrin, nothing I did mattered. As I have said many times, I tried to set myself apart, not just from my opponents but from candidates in general. Unrealistically, I had faith in the idea of differentness.


From the beginning, I wanted to be unusual without being weird. I failed to pull this off. My attempts at differentness—my logo, my signs, my billboard (just one), my radio ads, my letters to editors and constituents— never gained traction. That said, I regularly heard positive feedback from a variety of people about my marketing ideas—not a huge number, mind you, probably about seven total but positive feedback nonetheless. Bless them all.


At one democratic fundraiser, a chili cookoff, a supporter said that my logo was the best. Two weeks later, on election night at another party, another supporter said the same thing. Many of my students liked my “duckweed” design, the combination of the swan from Swanson and a cannabis leaf. My daughter and her creative team concocted the memorable image.


Over and over, I have talked about how the governor over-turning legalization of recreational cannabis was the catalyst that brought me into the race. I was inextricably tied to this issue. Behind an influx of negative, deceptive advertising near the end of the campaign, Initiated Measure 27—legalizing recreational pot—fell by the margin it passed two years ago. A group of law enforcement officials—who received a great deal of free media coverage—also publicly lied about the effects of marijuana on communities here and in Colorado, where pot is legal.


If it’s not the governor telling us how to think, it's John Law or, unpredictably, a faction of the Catholic church. In my mind, this is worse than the governor’s repeal because of the fascist implications. Politicians and law enforcement and organized religion worked together to thwart the will of the people. This is chilling. Marijuana ain’t about getting high; it’s about freedom.


In addition to the duckweed symbol, my radio ads received some positive responses. The three people who liked them said they appreciated the humor, and they would have voted for me if they’d been in my district. I wish could cherry pick voters based on sense of humor. Not surprisingly, I enjoyed making the spots as much as they enjoyed listening to them.


As much as I want to think these attempts at promotion succeeded, they did not. Neither worked. I didn’t expect to win, but my numbers were no better than the competent, hardworking candidates who ran a cycle ago or before that. The Democratic party has regularly run well-qualified candidates, people who knew more than me and did more than I did, and the results were the same. My humor and perceived distinction had no effect on the outcome.


If it isn’t obvious by now, let me be very clear: marketing is voodoo. The formula for a successful political campaign is based on the same adage as the one Hollywood uses to create a blockbuster movie: no one knows. But it’s worse in western South Dakota, where everyone seems to know the candidate with the scarlet letter D after his or her name is doomed.


Certain democratic candidates spent a great deal of time and effort going door to door; others, like me, felt this was a waste of that effort. We all got beat. Would knocking on more doors pushed those candidates over the line? Would door-knocking have helped me gain more votes? No one knows.


Here’s one thing we do know: if we persist using the old methods, doing what we (and they) have always done, we are destined to further failure. It’s the cliché definition of crazy, about repeating what doesn’t work and expecting different results. If we don’t fight differently, we will lose again and again.


It’s sad that most South Dakotans like being backwards, electing demagogues like our governor and her acolytes, who have little interest in helping average citizens. On the upside, Medicaid Expansion passed; there is hope.

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