Chris Nelson declares victory

He hasn’t received a concession call from Nick Nemec, but Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson just declared victory in a speech at the Republican Party headquarters.

"This morning, I read a quote from a politician in another state. This person said, quote, there is no humble in politics," Nelson said. "Tonight, I’m here to tell you that’s not true. I am incredibly humbled tonight by the confidence the people of South Dakota have placed in me to be their Public Utilities Commissioner for the next four years."

Nelson promised to fight to keep utilities reliable and rates low, but, his voice rising in intensity, promised to do that “without demonizing our utility companies or micromanaging them.”

The Democratic PUC candidates, most prominently Matt McGovern, have harshly criticized Xcel Energy this campaign.

Nelson did have a kind word for Nemec, a farmer.

"My opponent, and tonight I can say his name, Nick Nemec, is passionate about protecting farmers," Nelson said. "I appreciate that about Nick, and I share that."

Right now, with 42 percent of precincts reporting, Nelson leads Nemec 68-32.

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?

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.”

Searching for politicians

Google has this little feature called “autocomplete,” where if you type in a partial query it will suggest completions for the query, based on “other users’ search activities and the contents of web pages indexed by Google.”

You can read more about how it works here.

This can be amusing, but also interesting: what are other people searching for when they type in a query?

I logged out from my Google account (to avoid getting personalized results) and ran some tests with the names of South Dakota politicians. (It’s worth noting that Google also filters by region; someone searching in, say, California might get different results.) What I found is… interesting, about how well known South Dakota politicians are, how many other people have the same name, and what people care about with their leaders.

Here’s the list:

Dennis Daugaard

  1. deaf
  2. nad
  3. deaf parents

Matt Michels

  1. south dakota
  2. matt michelsen
  3. matt michelson

John Thune

  1. vice president
  2. email
  3. senator

Tim Johnson

  1. sioux falls office
  2. email
  3. senator

Kristi Noem

  1. facebook
  2. voting record
  3. new haircut

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin

  1. raven
  2. 2012
  3. bio

Mike Rounds

  1. senate
  2. kansas city
  3. nancy miller

Matt Varilek

  1. gay marriage
  2. biography
  3. sioux falls

Marty Jackley

  1. wiki
  2. bio
  3. sd attorney general

Jason Gant

  1. sd
  2. impeachment
  3. pat powers

Chris Nelson

  1. south dakota
  2. puc
  3. rockies

Kristie Fiegen

  1. puc
  2. sioux falls
  3. junior achievement

Matt McGovern

  1. south dakota
  2. boston college
  3. mlb draft

Nick Nemec

  1. puc
  2. south dakota
  3. nick nemechek

Ben Nesselhuf

  1. south dakota
  2. sd
  3. secretary state

Tim Rave

  1. south dakota
  2. tim raver
  3. tim raven
Mike Huether
  1. sioux falls
  2. democrat
  3. bio

EDIT: In the comments, “Two for the Road” points out a few I missed:

Tom Daschle

  1. scandal
  2. dla piper
  3. book

Larry Pressler

  1. closet
  2. abscam
  3. gay

A few more from history:

Bill Janklow

  1. manslaughter
  2. funeral
  3. r-murderer

Jim Abdnor

  1. funeral
  2. obituary
  3. dies

Jim Abourezk

  1. south dakota
  2. sioux falls
  3. senator

George McGovern

  1. family
  2. books

A few observations: first, many of these South Dakotans have very poor name recognition. Even Daugaard, the state’s governor, has his results dominated by a brief, localized but intense controversy among a specific subculture earlier this summer. People like Tim Rave and Matt Michels barely register, with suggestions after “south dakota” reflecting other people. Chris Nelson and Matt McGovern share more than just an interest in public utilities: they also have baseball-playing doppelgangers.

Matt Varilek has a lot of interest in his gay marriage position; Jason Gant’s recent controversies dominate his list. A lot of people are curious about Mike Huether’s political affiliation.

Thune, unsurprisingly, has vice presidential speculation at the top of his searches, but both he and Tim Johnson also have a lot of interest in their work as senators. Johnson, unlike Thune and Kristi Noem, has a constituent-service link in his top three (people trying to find his Sioux Falls office). Noem, sadly, has almost as many searches about her new haircut as she does about her voting record. People want to find emails for Thune and Johnson but a Facebook profile for Noem.

Chris Nelson and Nick Nemec, who are running against each other for a seat on the Public Utilities Commission, share a laugh prior to a legislative hearing Thursday in Pierre.

Chris Nelson and Nick Nemec, who are running against each other for a seat on the Public Utilities Commission, share a laugh prior to a legislative hearing Thursday in Pierre.

The PUC responds on Anderson Seed

Democratic PUC candidates Matt McGovern and Nick Nemec have been hammering incumbent PUC commissioners Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen mercilessly over the bankruptcy of Anderson Seed Company, owes millions to Redfield-area farmers.

Now Nelson and Fiegen are holding a press conference Wednesday to announce “recommendations for legislative changes to grain buyer statutes.”

Clearly the Democrats have been scoring some points here by arguing the PUC should have done more to protect farmers, though the issue probably wouldn’t have been enough alone to secure a victory. Will whatever Nelson and Fiegen announce on Wednesday help blunt these attacks?

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