Varilek appointed to Small Business Administration post

Matt Varilek, the Tim Johnson aide who ran for Congress in 2012, has been appointed to a post with the federal Small Business Administration.

Varilek will be the regional administration for SBA’s Region 8 — a six-state region including South Dakota. It’s one of 10 regions for the federal agency.

As a Johnson aide, Varilek focused on economic development.

He resigned from Johnson’s staff in late 2011 to challenge Rep. Kristi Noem for Congress, and handily won the Democratic primary against Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth. But Noem beat him handily, 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent.

Johnson announced Varilek’s appointment in a news release and praised his “private sector experience and strong roots in the region.”

Radio station: Varilek made no request to pull ad

On Saturday, Matt Varilek pledged to unilaterally run only positive ads for the rest of the campaign. After some back-and-forth with the Kristi Noem campaign, Varilek’s campaign manager David Benson said this applied to radio ads, too. Even though a radio ad attacking Noem was airing on Aberdeen radio, Benson said that was in the process of coming down.

“The buy was made, the radio ads were placed prior to last night’s debates. With it being the weekend, there’s a process in place to have that removed,” Benson said.

That process appears to be an exceptionally slow one. When I called Dakota Broadcasting, an Aberdeen radio company that aired the ad, late this morning, they said the Varilek campaign hadn’t made any request to pull the ad.

"Nobody has talked to me about it," said Joel Swanson, general manager of Dakota Broadcasting.

Swanson said Varilek was at their studio Saturday morning around 9:30, about three hours before he called me to announce he was going positive. Varilek didn’t mention anything at the time, Swanson said.

"I just thanked him for spending some bucks with us," he said.

Benson did not respond to a call for comment today.

Varilek speaking Spanish: Cory Heidelberger flags this video, an interview with La Voz, an English-Spanish bilingual media outlet in Sioux Falls, where Varilek reveals a skill he hasn’t talked about (to my knowledge) on the campaign trail: he speaks passable (at least — I don’t speak Spanish and can’t tell) Spanish.

Speaking of Spanish, another part of Varilek’s history he doesn’t talk about is a study abroad trip in undergrad (as opposed to his much-discussed overseas graduate studies) in Paraguay. The first I heard him mention it was at a Rotary luncheon in Sioux Falls, where Varilek said seeing real, deep poverty in that South American country awoke in him a passion to help others.

Varilek’s Spanish knowledge strikes me as a skill that would be far more useful were he a candidate in another state. South Dakota has a growing Spanish-speaking population, but still relatively small and not a significant voting bloc as in many urban areas or the Southwest. So it’s mostly just a quirk, here.

As near as I can tell Kristi Noem has not done an interview with La Voz; if I see one, I will post it.

Tags: Matt Varilek

Positive pledge only for TV ads? A reader sends over this Matt Varilek ad which they said is running on heavy rotation on 100.3 FM radio in Aberdeen. Its first half is Varilek’s positive message from his closing TV ad, but the second half attacks Noem for her committee attendance.

But David Benson, Varilek’s campaign manager, insists this is accidental, a consequence of the difficulty of pulling all the campaign’s old ads everywhere.

UPDATE: Benson calls to contest my word choice of “accidental.” “The buy was made, the radio ads were placed prior to last night’s debates. With it being the weekend, there’s a process in place to have that removed,” he said.

"We are in the process of pulling down all of the contrast ads, that includes radio," Benson said. "With it being the weekend, it takes a little bit longer, but we are committed to fulfilling Matt’s pledge of only running positive ads in the final days of the campaign.”

Benson said Varilek’s pledge applies to all ads, not just TV ads.

Tom Erickson, Kristi Noem’s campaign manager, said he didn’t buy it.

"I think it’s strains credulity to think that this was an accident," Erickson wrote in an email.

Here’s the transcript:

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. Well, it’s a funny question with a serious answer. I’m running for Congress because I still believe we can do better. I believe we can tackle our challenges, but only if we elect new leaders who will show up, work hard and work together to get results for South Dakota families.

Kristi Noem says she’s too busy to show up for the ag committee. Out of 20 meetings leading up to the farm bill, she only went to four. Now, that may be par for the course in Washington, but here in South Dakota, that’s a fireable offense. When she does show up for work, she supports more tax breaks for millionaires and turning Medicare into a voucher program.

Well, I’m running to stand up for middle class families, and because you deserve a member of Congress who works just as hard as you do. If you choose me on Nov. 6, I promise that’s exactly what you’ll get. I’m Matt Varilek, candidate for Congress, and I approved this ad. Paid for by Matt Varilek for South Dakota. 

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.

Varilek hits Noem on alleged access selling: Screenshots from the Argus Leader feature prominently in this latest Matt Varilek ad, another low-cost production featuring narration over computer animation. This may end up being problematic (and way over my head); more on this, possibly, later.

Here’s the transcript:

Narrator: What the heck is the Gula Graham Group? It’s Kristi Noem’s campaign firm, caught offering 1-on-1 coffees in return for campaign money. Selling meetings with fat cats, but she’s too busy to show up at the ag committee. 

Do you know really pays when Noem sells out to special interests? We do. Sixty-four hundred more in Medicare costs, higher taxes on the middle class, and still, no farm bill. Haven’t we paid enough already? 

Matt Varilek: I’m Matt Varilek, and I approve this message.

SDGOP hits Varilek: Two postcards, double the normal size, from the South Dakota Republican Party attacking Matt Varilek on health care.

Varilek’s phonebanking: Matt Varilek had a press conference this morning in his campaign offices in downtown Sioux Falls, and while there I snapped a picture of a poster on his wall tracking how many phone calls supporters have made.
The chart, as you can see, is just over 70,000 with a goal of 100,000.
I have no context for this number. Is that a lot of calls for a statewide South Dakota campaign at this point? Not a lot? Average? What does this say about Varilek’s organization and voter outreach?

Varilek’s phonebanking: Matt Varilek had a press conference this morning in his campaign offices in downtown Sioux Falls, and while there I snapped a picture of a poster on his wall tracking how many phone calls supporters have made.

The chart, as you can see, is just over 70,000 with a goal of 100,000.

I have no context for this number. Is that a lot of calls for a statewide South Dakota campaign at this point? Not a lot? Average? What does this say about Varilek’s organization and voter outreach?

Tags: Matt Varilek

Varilek’s got a new ad, too: Not to be outdone, Matt Varilek is out with a new ad. It’s sort of like a Greatest Hits compilation of his prior few ads this season, specifically revisiting moments from those ads. The only thing that strikes me as new is the footage of cable news anchors introducing Rep. Kristi Noem. This must have been really inexpensive to produce — all the video was on hand, all you need to do is splice it together and add the narration.

The ad also toes the line of being misleading. The text on the screen displays the controversial but defensible claim that the Ryan budget “ends Medicare as we know it" (emphasis added) but the narrator simply says Noem voted "to end Medicare," without the qualifier, which Politifact named its Lie of the Year.

Is this ad driven by money shortages, or does it reflect the fact that the Varilek campaign feels its current negative ads are effective and it wants to keep pressing the same message in different variations?

Here’s the transcript:

Narrator: Kristi Noem. We know she’s not doing her chores. We know she’s easily distracted. 

Rep. Don Young: Ms. Noem? Get of that machine. It’ll drive you nuts. 

Narrator: She certainly spends a lot of time on TV. 

Cable News Anchors: Tea Party favorite…Tea Party favorite…you’re a voice for the Tea Party…

Narrator: And when she is at work, votes to end Medicare, tax hikes for the middle. class, tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and big oil companies. Noem’s not working for middle-class families. Matt Varilek will. 

Matt Varilek: I’m Matt Varilek, and I approve this message.

Noem ad features supporters: In her ads this campaign season, Rep. Kristi Noem has effectively used surrogates — her son and her grandmother — to make her case for her. (Her rival, Matt Varilek, has spoken for himself or let narrators do the talking in his ads so far.) That trend for Noem continued in her most recent ad, “Works Hard,” which addresses Varilek’s regular criticism that Noem isn’t.

The ad doesn’t identify any of the supporters by name or position, unlike some (but not all) of the recent ballot measure ads featuring South Dakotans.

UPDATE: Noem’s campaign sends over the names of the supporters in the ad. I’ve updated the transcript below:

Cindy Frederick, Hayti: “Kristi is a fighter for South Dakota.”

Grant Geister, Sioux Falls:  “A very honest person. Very ethical.”

Frederick: “She puts in long days. She works hard. She gets things done.”

Richard DeBerg, Henry: “She doesn’t live in the Washington circle.”

Virginia Lovett, Sioux Falls: “Kristi comes home every weekend.”

Geister: “She can walk up to anybody and relate to them.”

Roger Fritz, Hazel: “She is just a quality individual.”

Jana Foisel, Watertown: “She doesn’t go to Washington as a politician; she goes to Washington as a wife, a mother, a business woman and a farmer.”

Frederick:  “She represents South Dakota because she is South Dakota.” 

Rep. Kristi Noem: “I’m Kristi Noem and I approve this message.”

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