Varilek’s closer (updated): At last night’s debate on KELO-TV, Matt Varilek seemed to catch Rep. Kristi Noem off-guard with an offer to pull all his negative ads if Noem did the same.
Noem replied that she’d think about it. (This answer wasn’t too surprising — campaigns rarely set major strategy in response to debate questions from your opponent.)
Early this afternoon, Varilek called me to say that his campaign is “unilaterally going positive-only” despite no response from Noem’s campaign on the positive-ad pledge offer.
He said — and I cannot confirm this — that he’s pulling all his other ads and running just the new ad embedded above for the final few days before the election.
Closing positively after weeks or months of negative ads is a time-honored tactic, a sort of palate-cleanser right before voters head to the polls. So don’t necessarily view this as some sort of huge sacrifice on Varilek’s part.
Will this strategy work?
UPDATE: Noem’s campaign manager Tom Erickson says the Noem campaign won’t be changing its ad strategy in the final days. He said they’re running two ads down the home stretch: the positive testimonial ad, and the negative (my words) ad criticizing Varilek.
Erickson dismissed Varilek’s pledge offer and his switch to positive ads.
"South Dakota voters must be rejecting his campaign if he’s electing to pull a stunt like this," Erickson said. "Suddenly on the Friday before the election he decides he wants to take down all negative ads? This is nothing but a last-minute stunt."
(Refreshingly, Varilek also admitted that his campaign HAS run negative ads when I pressed him about his criticism of Noem’s claim that she isn’t running any. Both campaigns this election have run negative ads, though they usually make semantic quibbles to avoid admitting it.)
I’ll also note that if this is truly Varilek’s final ad, that makes it official that he’s gone the entire campaign without featuring any ordinary voters in his ads, which is a curious (but probably cost-saving) strategic choice.
Here’s the transcript of Varilek’s final ad, which echoes his closing statement at last night’s debate:
Matt Varilek: I’m Matt Varilek, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I’m working so hard to voluntarily join that mess in Congress. It’s a funny question with a serious answer.
I’m running for Congress because I believe that we can still do better. I believe we can tackle our challenges, but only if we elect new leaders- leaders who show up, work hard every day, and work together to get results for middle-class families.
I’m Matt Varilek, and I approve this message.