On that ‘RINO Mike’ Twitter account

Earlier this morning, Matt McGovern tweeted out an observation about Twitter followers for two opposing accounts:

The “RINO Mike” account, @RINOMikeSD, has been active for some time, firing off a steady stream of criticism that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds is — shockingly — a Republican In Name Only.

The account is anonymous, though some people have alleged that it’s connected with the Senate Conservatives Fund, a vocal Rounds critic that has virtually identical gripes about the former South Dakota governor.

The RINOMike account retweeted McGovern’s post and replied with the suggestion that the follower difference was because “real conservatives don’t support (Rounds) for #SDSEN.”

Whether or not that’s true, it’s beside the point about why the two accounts have a big Twitter follower differential. For one, the Rounds team has barely used Twitter so far. @RoundsforSenate has only made 37 tweets since being created last November. @RinoMikeSD has tweeted 519 times since it was started in March. As a prolific tweeter myself, it’s absolutely the case that except for a very few celebrities, more active accounts generally have more followers.

But there’s another reason @RINOMikeSD has 10 times more followers than his target. Most of RINO Mike’s followers are fake.

I spent a few minutes scrolling through @RINOMikeSD’s followers. It started it with a large number of the kind of people you’d expect — people whose Twitter bios emphasize their conservatism, their faith, their love of guns, their dislike of Barack Obama. Then it shifted into a huge block of people whose bios had nothing to do with conservative activism. Accounts that looked to my eye like the kind of spam accounts that periodically fill up my feed.

So I plugged @RINOMikeSD into http://fakers.statuspeople.com, a website that will roughly estimate what percentage of an account’s 3,395 followers are fake. Here’s the results:

Mike Rounds’ 299 followers, meanwhile, come up as 6 percent fake.

If you multiply that out, @RINOMike has 747 non-fake followers (counting inactive accounts as good). Rounds has 281. That’s still more, but it’s by a factor of three, not 10.

(My own @ArgusMontgomery, by the way, is 6 percent fake, for 1,335 real followers.)

But, there are a few interesting figures among those 747 real followers of @RINOMikeSD. Scrolling through for names I recognized, I saw a lot of South Dakota political junkies following to get a sense of what the account is tweeting. (I’m one of them, as are several other journalists.) There’s also plenty of known conservative activists and groups, including @RepStaceNelson — who RINOMike repeatedly urges to run for Senate.

A few official, verified accounts also follow @RINOMikeSD, including the official accounts of three members of Congress: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla:

Now, following someone on Twitter doesn’t mean you endorse their views. But the fact that these three are following a Twitter account devoted to attacking the GOP frontrunner in South Dakota’s U.S. Senate race is interesting.

Matt McGovern moving to D.C.

Matt McGovern, the unsuccessful 2012 Democratic Public Utilities Commission candidate and grandson of George McGovern, is moving to Washington, D.C.

McGovern, 41, said he’s heading to the nation’s capital for better career opportunities.

"I figure I’ll find something better if I’m out there," he said. "It’s easier if you’re there already."

Among his job prospects are doing legal work, or working for the government or a nonprofit. He’s not yet a member of the Washington, D.C. bar, but said he hopes to rectify that soon.

He grew up in Wisconsin, and moved to South Dakota nine years ago for what he originally thought would be a short-term gig as a law clerk in Rapid City. Instead he ended up living in the state for almost a decade, doing several different jobs in law and politics before running for office last year.

McGovern is the second 2012 Democratic candidate to leave the state. U.S. House candidate Matt Varilek recently accepted a job as the regional director for the federal Small Business Administration and will be moving to Colorado for the job. (The third Democratic statewide candidate last year, PUC nominee Nick Nemec, will presumably be staying on his Holabird farm.)

Some of McGovern’s friends and supporters encouraged him to run for office again next year, when Democrats will have to field candidates for governor, U.S. House and a host of constitutional offices.

He said he enjoyed being a candidate and would like to run for office in the future, but “pretty early decided I wouldn’t be running for office in 2014.”

"It wouldn’t be the right time for me to do it again so soon after the last one," McGovern said.

McGovern’s anti-Fiegen ad: Sorry I’m a little behind on this race. Here’s an ad by Matt McGovern attacking his general election opponent, Kristie Fiegen, for being too cozy with McGovern’s bête noire, Xcel Energy.


Narrator: Politician Kristie Fiegen is a former board member at Xcel Energy, a company whose CEO travels in a private jet and made $11 million last year — paid for by your electric bills. Now Xcel wants a whole new 11.5 percent rate hike, and who do they have to go through to get it? Kristie Fiegen, our Public Utilities Commissioner, their former board member. That’s gotta stop. It’s time to vote no to Kristie Fiegen.

SDGOP hits McGovern on name change: This new ad, first picked up by SDWC, from the South Dakota Republican Party criticizes Matt McGovern on the issue that seems to bug Republicans about him more than anything else — his decision to change his name from Matt McGovern-Rowen to Matt McGovern. (This change happened in 2007, not quite “just before he filed to run for Public Utilities Commission,” as the GOP’s video description says.)

A point of clarification: It’s a matter of fact that McGovern changed his name. What is matter of speculation is WHY he changed his name. To some people, it seems obvious that he changed his name because of political ambition. Other people, including McGovern himself, point to to other reasons. It’s really impossible to know for sure.

The video also criticizes McGovern for his work lobbying for a cap-and-trade bill. There’s no real ambiguity here. McGovern did support a cap-and-trade program, and did so enthusiastically and explicitly. This is in contrast to another Democratic Matt who has been accused of supporting cap-and-trade, but who chiefly analyzed (sometimes favorably, which can be damning enough if you fiercely oppose cap-and-trade) cap-and-trade systems instead of lobbying and advocating for them.

Here’s the transcript of the ad:

Narrator: Who is Matt McGovern? Well, his real name was Matt Rowan. He was born in Wisconsin, moved here in 2004, worked for Obama and Gore’s radical energy policies, which would cost South Dakota families over $2,000 a year — an expense he said was “minimal.” He wasn’t born here, hasn’t lived here, changed his last name just to run for the PUC, and now he wants to be in charge of your utility bills. South Dakota can’t afford to be fooled by Matt McGovern.

UPDATE: The South Dakota Republican Party sends out a press release noting a factual error — one they don’t seem too upset about having to correct:

The South Dakota Republican Party is currently running an ad that states Matt McGovern was born is Wisconsin. In fact, he was born in Washington, DC. 

The McGovern campaign has requested that this be changed - this will be done as soon as possible. ;-)

That is a verbatim copy-and-paste. No comment on the emoticon.

Why are the Dems gunning for Chris Nelson?

I was skeptical when an email blast from Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson arrived in my inbox, pleading for money because the state Democratic Party had put “big money into defeating me.”

But it’s true. The South Dakota Democratic Party gave $40,000 to Nick Nemec’s PUC campaign. It brought the race to financial parity — with that $40,000, Nemec raised $57,135 between the June conventions and Friday. Nelson raised $55,505.

Meanwhile, in the other PUC race, Democrat Matt McGovern raised just under $111,000, while Kristie Fiegen raised $106,000 plus $20,000 in in-kind contributions.

The conventional wisdom, suggested by the Nielson Brothers polls and common sense based on the statewide name recognition and popularity of Nelson compared to Fiegen, was that the McGovern-Fiegen race was the winnable one for the Democrats, while Nemec was running as a good soldier to make sure Nelson had a challenger. (This is also known as “scandal insurance.”)

This donation would seem to counteract that conventional wisdom. Surely the Democrats, with limited (though not pathetic) financial resources, would concentrate that money on the two statewide candidates who seem to be in the best shape: McGovern and Matt Varilek. An extra $40,000 could make a big difference in either race.

Is the Nelson seat unexpectedly in play? Or is something else going on here?

Matt McGovern’s TV ad: Public Utilities Commission candidate Matt McGovern has his first television ad, a direct-to-camera spot criticizing Xcel Energy for allegedly overcompensating its CEO with a private jet and then billing South Dakota ratepayers for it.

In “100 Eyes” yesterday some commenters suggested this ad was misleading because the current PUC, including McGovern’s opponent Kristie Fiegen, blocked these jet-related rate increases. I haven’t followed the issue closely, though from talking with other reporters I understand the issue is complicated, and maybe some of the rate increases have been blocked and others haven’t? People who know more about the issue, weigh in in the comments.

UPDATE: Here’s some relevant information. The issue of Xcel’s jet was first raised by Colorado’s energy regulators, as discussed here. Below, starting on page 14, is the relevant PUC meeting transcript, in which the commission appears to block Xcel from passing on the cost of one of its two jets to rate-payers, but not the second.

PUC transcript

Nielson Brothers: races tightening

In July, the Nielson Brothers showed one-point leads for Kristi Noem and Kristie Fiegen. (That’s bad for the Republicans/good for the Democrats!)

In September, they showed nine to 10 point leads for Noem and Fiegen. (That’s good the Republicans/bad for the Democrats!)

Now in early October, the Nielson Brothers are showing somewhere in between.

A new poll was conducted Oct. 1 through Oct. 5, with 730 to 762 respondents (it varied per question) and a margin of error between 3.55 and 3.63 percent.

In it, they show the following:

  • Romney +10.5 (51.6 Romney-41.1 Obama)
  • Noem +5.7 (49.3 Noem - 43.6 Varilek)
  • Nelson +26.4 (55.1 Nelson - 28.7 Nemec)
  • Fiegen +2.1 (38.6 Fiegen - 36.5 McGovern - 8.5 Clarke)

Obama’s job approval is 43 percent. Noem’s is 53 percent. Prior NBP polls of the PUC race did not include Libertarian Russell Clarke.

So far the Nielson Brothers have provided the only publicly released polling of South Dakota races this year. They have their critics in the press and especially among Republicans, due to a short and uneven track record and the ties of one of the Nielson brothers, Paul Nielson, to the South Dakota Democratic Party.

I’d say definitely take these numbers with a grain of salt. But until I see other polling suggesting I should, I’d hesitate to dismiss NBP’s polling out of hand as some people encourage me to do.

Nielson Brothers: GOP widening leads

In July, the Nielson Brothers drew a lot of Republican fire by releasing a poll showing Matt Varilek and Kristi Noem (and Matt McGovern and Kristie Fiegen) basically tied.

Now they’re out with a new poll showing nine to 10 point leads for the two Kristi(e)s.

Important caveat, aside from all the normal NBP questions: this poll was conducted over the Labor Day weekend and is just being released now. So even if this poll is 100 percent accurate, it tells us what the situation was almost three weeks ago. That was before the House candidates started running TV advertisements. (Varilek ran his first ad the day after Labor Day, Sept. 4; this survey ran through Sept. 6.)

This poll surveyed 512 people with a 4.33 percent margin of error.

With that said, if you view a poll doubtfully, the important thing to look at is trends. And the trend here is people moving into the Republican camp. Noem, crucially, breaks 50 percent in this poll, though just barely. Her approval rating is also over 50, around 55 percent. 

The poll found Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama in South Dakota 54-39.

Hopefully we’ll get some more polling numbers soon from other pollsters so we can compare to the NBP results and get a sense of how close to the mark they are.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., talks with South Dakota Public Utilities Commission candidate Matt McGovern, a Democrat, after Thune’s talk today at a Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., talks with South Dakota Public Utilities Commission candidate Matt McGovern, a Democrat, after Thune’s talk today at a Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

House race neck-and-neck? Maybe…

The Nielson Brothers are out with a new poll with some… interesting results.

Here’s their headline figures for South Dakota registered voters (not likely voters):

Mitt Romney 49, Barack Obama 43

Kristi Noem 47, Matt Varilek 46

Kristie Fiegen 43, Matt McGovern 41

Chris Nelson 54, Nick Nemec 30

How accurate are these numbers? They’re very favorable to the Democrats. Set aside the absolute numbers, and the relative numbers seem about right with conventional wisdom: Varilek outperforming Obama (which he may or may not do, but has to if he’s going to win), McGovern outperforming Nemec.

Rejecting a poll just because its numbers don’t look right is always risky. Sometimes a poll that looks wrong is wrong. Sometimes preconceptions are wrong. The best way to judge is by comparing to other polls. Unfortunately, we don’t have any comparable matchup polls for South Dakota. What we do have is the Gallup poll from a little bit ago, showing 38 percent of South Dakotans approve of Barack Obama.

That asked about approval, not who people would vote for. How closely do approval numbers track vote preference?

Pretty closely, it seems. Here’s a few national polls with Obama’s approval and support:

Rasmussen, 44% approve, 43% support

Pew, 51% approve, 51% support

Democracy Corps, 50% approve, 50% support

So let’s say, in the absence of more numbers from the Nielson Brothers, that approval and support are equivalent. That means their poll is friendlier to Obama by five points than Gallup. (We shouldn’t necessarily presume that Gallup is the more accurate of the two, but for the sake of this exercise I will.)

If that lean is true across the board, then Varilek’s at 41 percent to Noem’s 52, McGovern’s at 36 percent to Fiegen’s 48 percent, and Nemec is at 25 percent to Nelson’s 59 percent.

This is just back-of-the-envelope stuff, so don’t take this too far.

Regardless, being at 41 percent and around 10 points down on Noem at this point in the campaign is actually a pretty decent result for Varilek. That doesn’t mean he can close, but it means he’s within striking distance.

Who knows. We’ve got one data point. I hope Rasmussen or one of the other polling agencies releases some numbers to give us more context.

If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands and want to read more about Nielson Brothers Polling, I wrote a very long blog post on them at Mount Blogmore some time ago.

UPDATE: A little more context for people who don’t have enough time to read that linked post. NBP has a relatively short track record as a public pollster. Some of their polls have been pretty close to actual results (such as the 2010 U.S. House race in South Dakota), while others have been way off, including a wacky poll in the 2010 governors’ race. Some Republicans point to Paul Nielson’s history as a Democratic candidate as proof the firm is biased. The Nielson brothers insist they provide accurate results and point out that the other Nielson brother, Mark, is an economist who “leans to the right.”

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