National GOP to raise money for Rounds

The Washington Examiner is reporting that U.S. Senate frontrunner Mike Rounds, already tacitly supported by national Republicans, will get more direct assistance.

On Feb. 25, the National Republican Senatorial Committee will host a fundraiser for Rounds at its headquarters near Washington, D.C.

Also hosting are a set of Republican senators: South Dakota Sen. John Thune (who already endorsed Rounds), minority leader Mitch McConnell, NRSC chair Jerry Moran, and eight others.

It’s a reflection of the national establishment consensus that Rounds is by far the GOP’s best chance to win the Senate seat — as well as probably that he would be the best Republican running to join the Senate GOP caucus.

State of the Union reactions

Here’s the reactions that have flowed into my inbox last night and this morning to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last night:

Sen. Tim Johnson:

I believe the tone of the President’s speech, one of optimism for the nation as the economy continues to recover, is the right one.  He laid out solid proposals for helping the middle class including more investment in high-tech manufacturing, universal early childhood education, and job training that the country needs.  I hope Congress will work to pass many of these proposals to provide more economic opportunity for South Dakotans and the American people.

Rep. Kristi Noem:

I have always believed the responsibility of government is to empower its people to get ahead regardless of where they started.  That’s what we do in South Dakota.  We do it by keeping taxes low, our fiscal house in order and regulations at a minimum.   The strategy has worked, so I was disappointed that I didn’t hear similar ideas in the President’s speech this evening.

The House has already passed dozens of bills that encourage job creation and help make sure the American workforce is equipped with the training and skills needed to fill higher-paying positions.  They are smart, field-tested policies that lead to strong economies and higher salaries.  They should be taken into consideration and included in the debate as we work together to move the country forward.  I urge the President to put the pen aside, take a look at the proven policies the House has already drafted and work with us.  That’s a better starting point than an executive order.

 Sen. John Thune:

The president has called for a year of action, yet tonight he failed to mention common-sense, bipartisan measures thatwould actually make it easier and less expensive to create jobs, like approving the Keystone pipeline, repealing the job-killing ObamaCare medical device tax, or stopping the EPA’s backdoor energy tax. The only way to give Americans real opportunity and prosperity is to give them access to jobs. A year of action should be about creating jobs to lead to a better, brighter future for middle-class families.

I’ll post more if I get them.

File under things I didn’t know: U.S. Sen. John Thune, like myself and Argus Leader managing editor Patrick Lalley, used to play the tuba/sousaphone. 
Thune aide Jon Lauck sends in this photo from Murdo, Thune’s hometown to which he returned tonight for the Jones County Basketball Invitational, and writes:

John Thune showing off the tuba (Ed.: Actually a sousaphone) he played in the 1970s at Jones County High School — taken in the rafters of the Harold Thune Auditorium in Murdo during tonight’s Jones County Invitational game between Jones and Lyman counties.  The tuba is still being used and still has the big dent that John put in it. 

In my case, I only played the lowest brass instrument for a year or so — my primary instrument was its slightly smaller cousin, the euphonium. And like Thune, I once dropped my school-issued instrument, creating a large dent.
Now I am getting an idea for a great/terrible “100 Eyes” show…

File under things I didn’t know: U.S. Sen. John Thune, like myself and Argus Leader managing editor Patrick Lalley, used to play the tuba/sousaphone. 

Thune aide Jon Lauck sends in this photo from Murdo, Thune’s hometown to which he returned tonight for the Jones County Basketball Invitational, and writes:

John Thune showing off the tuba (Ed.: Actually a sousaphone) he played in the 1970s at Jones County High School — taken in the rafters of the Harold Thune Auditorium in Murdo during tonight’s Jones County Invitational game between Jones and Lyman counties.  The tuba is still being used and still has the big dent that John put in it. 

In my case, I only played the lowest brass instrument for a year or so — my primary instrument was its slightly smaller cousin, the euphonium. And like Thune, I once dropped my school-issued instrument, creating a large dent.

Now I am getting an idea for a great/terrible “100 Eyes” show…

Tags: John Thune

The Absaroka difference

News that some rural Colorado counties are trying to secede from their increasingly urban and liberal state has revived talk of a historical curiosity: the attempt, during the Great Depression, to create a new state out of parts of northern Wyoming, western South Dakota and southern Montana.

The name of the state, which would have been America’s 49th, was proposed to be Absaroka.

Here’s what it would have looked like:

I’m not concerned here with discussing the wisdom of secession, or the practicalities thereof. What got me curious today was a simpler question: what would South Dakota’s politics be like if these counties, some of the most reliably Republican in the state, weren’t part of the South Dakota electorate?

An Absaroka-less South Dakota would be more Democratic than the current Mount Rushmore state — but only to a degree.

One quick shorthand method for calculating the partisan lean of a state is the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Basically it looks at shares of the presidential vote to calculate how much more Democratic or Republican a state is than the country as a whole.

Real South Dakota (RSD), for example, has a PVI of “R+10,” meaning it’s 10 percentage points more Republican than the country. California is D+9, meaning it’s 9 percentage points more Democratic than the country. Virginia is dead even, meaning its partisan lean exactly matches the country.

Fortunately, Absaroka would have split along county boundaries, so it’s relatively easy to calculate the PVI for Alternate South Dakota. In the 2008 presidential election, John McCain would have won 52.4 percent of the two-party vote (he actually got 54.2 percent of the two-party vote). In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney would have won 57.5 percent (he really won 59.2 percent). Comparing that average, 55 percent Republican, to the national Republican share of 47.1 percent, Alternate South Dakota ends up as an R+7.8.

In real life, South Dakota is R+10, so losing Absaroka would have made South Dakota about two percentage points more Democratic.

That’s not a ton. South Carolina is an R+8 state. Montana is an R+7. Both are solidly red states at the presidential level. (Georgia, at R+6, is the bluest state right now with two Republican senators.)

But small shifts can make the difference in close elections.

For example, in 2010, Kristi Noem beat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin by around 7,000 votes. But in Alternate South Dakota, without Noem’s Black Hills electoral strongholds, Herseth Sandlin narrowly wins re-election by 6,700 votes — a near inversion of the actual result. (Another potential boost for Herseth Sandlin: if Custer County were in a different state, independent B. Thomas Marking wouldn’t have been a candidate in the race.)

And Tom Daschle would have broken the Curse of Karl Mundt in 2004 if western South Dakota had gone to play in Absaroka. In real life, Thune beat Daschle by 4,500 votes. Alternate South Dakota would have voted for Daschle by a 9,300-vote margin.

(Big caveat: this is a scenario in which one assumes all other factors remain the same. In fact, a South Dakota without its western portion would have different politics. Different issues would be dominant. Candidates might take different positions, responding to different pressures from their constituents. Campaigning patterns would unfold differently.)

This only goes so far. For example, Scott Heidepriem can draw little consolation from this counter-factual. In real life Dennis Daugaard won by 23 points and 73,000 votes. Alternate South Dakota would have voted for Daugaard by the only slightly less overwhelming total of 21 points and 52,000 votes.

What to take away? Geography matters. South Dakota is Republican through and through, and would remain so even if the most Republican part of the state were sliced off. But the slight shift toward the political center could have had big impacts in the state’s recent close elections.

Miscellaneous things I am pondering: 

  • What would the smaller South Dakota’s nickname be? Still the Sunshine State? Or something different?
  • If the tourist hordes heading to the Black Hills were heading to another state, do you think Alternate South Dakota would have put tollbooths up on I-90?
  • Would Pierre still be the capital? The physical investment in government infrastructure would be expensive to duplicate. But while Pierre is geographically central to South Dakota and has major population centers to its west in the Black Hills, in Alternate South Dakota there’s very little to the west of Pierre.
  • UPDATE: In January, a Wyoming sportswriter took a look at a similar question: what would the high school sports conferences look like in Absaroka? If you like sports, give it a read.

Thune, Johnson vote yes to shutdown deal; Noem a no

South Dakota’s two senators both voted for the deal to end the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling, while Rep. Kristi Noem voted no.

Here are their statements:

Sen. Tim Johnson, yes:

“I am glad the Senate leadership came together in a bipartisan fashion to find a way out of the mess we are in now, open up the government, and pay the nation’s bills.  This compromise will help keep our economic recovery on track by sending a strong signal to consumers and businesses.

By holding firm in opposition to the House attempts at extortion, I hope that President Obama has permanently closed the door to the possibility of government default by either Republicans or Democrats. 

A key piece of the agreement is jump starting a constructive budget process to find real solutions to address our deficit in a setting free of hostage taking.”

Sen. John Thune, yes:

“We fought hard to protect as many Americans as possible from ObamaCare, and that fight doesn’t end today, but we’re now 16 days into a shutdown and risking a possible default, and Congress needs to end this impasse. This isn’t a perfect proposal, it’s far from it, but it will ensure that we don’t blow past the default date that’s been set by the Treasury, and it will force Congress to have a broad debate about Washington’s dangerous levels of spending and debt, which are hamstringing the economy and mortgaging our children’s futures. This debate should be an opportunity to focus on fiscal policies that will actually grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.”

Rep. Kristi Noem, no:

“This agreement will reopen the government and stop any talk of a default, which are both good things.  However, I could not support this bill because it didn’t do anything to address our continued deficit spending, which has resulted in a $17 trillion debt.”

Thune to Obama: Stop saying we want to default

U.S. Sen John Thune and other Republican senators have sent a letter to President Barack Obama accusing him of “irresponsible rhetoric” with regards to a potential U.S. default — specifically, his rhetoric suggesting Republicans are willing to see it happen.

Thune and 11 other Republican senators write:

We were greatly disappointed to hear your recent comments to CNBC’s John Harwood that you believe that Republicans in Congress are willing to default on our debt obligations by not raising the statutory debt limit.  Specifically, you stated that you recently told representatives from the financial sector visiting Washington that “they should be concerned” over a faction of Congress that is “willing potentially to default.”

We are writing to express our concern that such comments are unproductive and misguided.  Any statements by you or other senior administration officials – whether to Wall Street or Main Street – that express the belief that America will default on its debt are not only misleading in our view, but they threaten to destabilize financial markets and could raise borrowing costs for families and small businesses.

The issue at hand is the U.S.’s debt ceiling, which prevents the government from borrowing any more money than a fixed level. The country will hit that ceiling in a few weeks unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, forcing an immediate reduction of government spending to the levels covered by existing revenue — around 30 percent. That could mean huge cutbacks in spending on things like Social Security benefits — or it could mean the country stops paying interest on its national debt. The latter, a “default,” is feared by investors who could become substantially less willing to buy U.S. government bonds if they no longer trust they’ll receive their payments. Because U.S. government bonds form the basis for much of the world economic system, many experts believe a U.S. default could have tremendous impacts on currencies and economies around the globe.

Republicans have been insisting that any debt ceiling increase include concessions by Obama to help reduce spending. From Thune’s letter:

Rather than stoking fears that could destabilize financial markets and hurt investors, we believe now is the time to make a significant down payment on addressing America’s long-term debt problems.  Debt held by the public has increased by 90 percent over the past four and a half years and will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.  As Congress and the executive branch have routinely done in the past, now is the time to work together on solutions that reduce our deficits and move our economy forward.  

Obama, in contrast, has insisted that Congress raise the debt ceiling without preconditions, saying that the question of whether the U.S. pays its bills (which due to the current deficit requires borrowing money) is too important to subject to a political process.

Is Thune right that Obama’s increasingly pointed comments blaming Republicans are “irresponsible” and could cause a problem? Or do Thune’s protestations simply reflect a more prosaic reality that Obama’s rhetoric is politically harming Republicans?

Noem: Boehner will appoint farm bill conference committee

Even as Congress is deadlocked over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, it may be moving forward on a long-delayed piece of policy: a farm bill.

Rep. Kristi Noem announced Tuesday afternoon that House Speaker John Boehner gave her personal assurances he’d appoint a conference committee next week to negotiate a final farm bill with the Senate.

The Senate passed its farm bill in June. A few weeks later, the House of Representatives rejected a full farm bill. GOP leaders then split the farm bill in two, passing a farm-only portion in July and a nutrition bill in September that contained steep cuts to the food stamp program.

Noem opposed splitting the bill in two, but has said she expects the conference committee to negotiate a compromise farm bill between the two chambers’ positions.

The big question was whether, and when, such a conference committee would be appointed.

Now Noem says that’ll be soon. A statement from the congresswoman:

I spoke this morning at our weekly Republican meeting and described to my colleagues the devastation in western South Dakota that has resulted from the weekend storm. The lack of a comprehensive Farm Bill leaves all of our producers without the certainty they need.  This is especially true for our livestock producers who are currently without the protection of a livestock disaster program. After further conversations with the Speaker today, I appreciate him confirming that he plans to move forward and appoint conferees within the next week.  We need to move quickly to get a five-year Farm Bill completed.

The announcement comes just a few hours after Sen. John Thune, in a somewhat unusual move, publicly called on his fellow Republican leader, House Speaker John Boehner, to appoint a farm bill conference committee

Libertarian Evans to run for U.S. Senate in 2014

Kurt Evans, the libertarian candidate who many believe cost John Thune a victory in his 2002 race against Tim Johnson, says he’ll run for U.S. Senate again next year.

Evans, 43, said in an email to the Argus Leader that he would run for Senate as a Libertarian.

A Wessington Springs native, he’s employed as a distance education facilitator in the Wessington Springs school system.

In 2002, Evans received 32,000 3,070 votes in a race Thune lost by 525 votes.

Conventional wisdom holds that Libertarian candidates draw support primarily (though not exclusively) from voters who might otherwise pick Republicans.

Conservative magazine Human Events quoted Thune talking about the matter last year:

He ran to the right of me. I remember when (Evans) came in to tell me he was going to run and I said ‘you know Kurt, it’s going to be a really close race. You could be the difference in this.’ And he said ‘I’ve been called by God to do this’ and I said “I understand. I can’t tell you not to do this. I’m just telling you as a practical matter that in a really close race in this state, that whatever you take away is coming out of our vote total. But he went ahead and did it anyway, so you’re right.

Evans wrote that his own memory of the conversation was blunter: ”I remember him saying angrily, ‘Every vote you get is coming RIGHT OUT OF MY HIDE!’” Evans wrote in his email.

Evans would be the first third-party or independent candidate to enter the race. Already running are one Democrat, Rick Weiland, and four Republicans, Annette Bosworth, Stace Nelson, Larry Rhoden and Mike Rounds.

Thune says Syria attack could be in national interest, calls for Obama to make case

Sen. John Thune said intervening in Syria could be in the U.S.’s national interest, but that President Barack Obama hasn’t made that case to the American people.

In a last-minute conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Thune said the U.S. has an interest in ensuring “stability” and the “balance of power” in the Middle East, in preventing the use of chemical weapons and not empowering countries like Iran, an ally of Syria.

But Thune acknowledged that Americans are increasingly opposed to intervening in Syria. He said his office has received thousands of calls on the subject, most against a U.S. attack.

"This is something that’s never going to be popular," Thune said, adding that Americans are "just tired" and out of patience with involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts.

He said Obama needs to make the case to the American people that a Syria strike is necessary for the country.

Thune said he’s undecided about how he’d vote on a resolution authorizing force. But he said recent developments, a Russia-backed plan to avert a strike if Syria surrenders its chemical weapons to the international community, are promising.

"I’m like everybody, hopeful and optimistic that this latest proposal could lead to a good outcome for everyone," Thune said.

But any such deal, Thune said, has to be “verifiable,” “enforceable” and “swift” — not a way for Assad to endlessly delay while he cracks down on Syrian rebels.

Who’s running that social media account?

In this morning’s paper, I took a look at South Dakota politicians and social media. I was a little surprised at how many are personally involved in running their official Facebook and Twitter pages, though it’s far from unanimous. The two key factors seemed to be:

  • Age, with younger politicians more likely to use social media and older politicians more likely to leave it to aides
  • Length of time in politics. People who were private citizens before running for office in recent years likely had personal social media accounts, leaving them more comfortable than someone who’s been a public figure for a decade or more.

You can read the story here.

And in case you’re wondering, here’s a run-down of who actually is managing the accounts:

  • Sen. Tim Johnson: Aides
  • Sen. John Thune: A mixture of aides and Thune personally
  • Rep. Kristi Noem: A mixture of aides and Noem personally
  • Gov. Dennis Daugaard: Aides
  • Mike Rounds: Aides
  • Stace Nelson: Nelson personally, with minor clerical assistance from an aide
  • Annette Bosworth: Bosworth personally
  • Rick Weiland: A mixture of aides and Weiland personally
  • Larry Rhoden: A mixture of aides and Rhoden personally

Most of the politicians who let aides handle their accounts said they still provide input — telling aides what to put up, or drafting statements and giving it to them to post.

Another point worth noting: none few of South Dakota’s politicians provide any input into whether a given post was written by the politician or an aide. Some accounts, such as President Barack Obama’s Twitter account, append the politician’s initials (“-BO”) when they make the post themselves, with everything else from staff.

UPDATE: Weiland, Ryan Casey points out, does sign his personal tweets with “RW.”

All the politicians I asked said they didn’t think that was necessary because they’re still approving posts even when they’re not making them.

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