Democrats’ Stepping Stone to Take Thune’s Seat: Kurt Evans?

I like Kurt Evans. I respect him for running for office. But I now abrogate that like and respect to discuss using Evans to serve my party’s political goals.

We’ve heard some media discussion of the possibility that Senator John Thune could get a “historic” second free pass with no one challenging him for his seat in 2016. I’ve counseled patience; the South Dakota Democratic Party will find a challenger for our very beatable senior Senator.

Kurt Evans speaking at the South Dakota Libertarian Convention, Sioux Falls, SD, August 9, 2014. Photo by Ken Santema.
Kurt Evans: Democrats’ secret weapon?

But Thune already has a challenger. Kurt Evans announced his Independent candidacy for Senate last December. With his Libertarian leanings, Evans has more inroads with Thune voters than any Democrat would. We may generally discount Evans’s ability to raise money and run a serious statewide race, but without breaking a big sweat, Evans got 20% of South Dakota voters to mark his name last year as the Libertarian candidate for state auditor against Republican Steve Barnett. (How many of that 20% chose Evans for lack of any other alternative and how many of them chose Evans on his own merits is open for debate.)

So Democrats, consider the possibilities. Suppose John Thune right now holds the same margin over any given Democrat by which Rep. Kristi Noem beat Corinna Robinson last year, 67% to 33%. If Kurt Evans can do half as well with the Independent label as Larry Pressler did in last year’s Senate race, he pulls Thune down below 60%. To win, a Democrat would only have to beat 46% instead of 50%. Eventual Democrat, Evans climbs a quarter of your electoral hill for you.

As I’m thinking about Kurt Evans’s usefulness to a Democrat challenging Thune, a Facebook friend points to this excerpt from Senator Claire McCaskill’s new memoir, in which she explains how she helped Todd Akin win the Missouri GOP primary in 2012 so she could beat him in the general election. The trick was casting Akin as the real conservative:

Using the guidance of my campaign staff and consultants, we came up with the idea for a “dog whistle” ad, a message that was pitched in such a way that it would be heard only by a certain group of people. I told my team we needed to put Akin’s uber-conservative bona fides in an ad—and then, using reverse psychology, tell voters not to vote for him. And we needed to run the hell out of that ad [Senator Claire McCaskill, “How I Helped Todd Akin Win—So I Could Beat Him Later,” Politico, 2015.08.11].

How’d that ad go over with Missouri’s GOP voters?

It started to work. Our telephones were ringing off the hook with people saying, “Just because she’s telling me not to vote for him, I’m voting for him. That’s the best ad for Akin I’ve ever seen!” A man wrote a letter to the editor of the Springfield News Leader: “I think it’s time for someone who may be too conservative. Thank you, Senator McCaskill, for running that ad. You have helped me determine that my vote needs to go to Akin.” The editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch advised those who were going to vote in the Republican primary to cast their ballot for Akin since he was “the most honest candidate. We suggest Mr. Akin because with him at least you’re sure of what you’re getting. He isn’t faking it when he endorses the worst of the GOP agenda. He actually believes it. What you see is what you get”[McCaskill, 2015.08.11].

Missouri’s 2012 Senate race differs significantly from South Dakota 2016. Evans would not face Thune in a primary. Our Democratic challenger would have to attack Evans directly in the general. Portraying Evans as the more rockily ribbed conservative might not drive moderates to check Dem when they would still have Thune’s comforting “R” on the ballot as a safety valve. And maybe just by laying this possibility out, I jinx it, alerting Evans himself to the danger of a nefarious liberal plot.

But eventual Democratic challenger, think about Evans. You already have a guy who wants to get on the ballot and cut Thune’s lead. Evans is an opportunity on which you can capitalize. How far can you stretch that opportunity?


48 Responses to Democrats’ Stepping Stone to Take Thune’s Seat: Kurt Evans?

  1. Being realistic, any best case scenario still requires a ton of money, organizational structure bolstered by a unified and disciplined party, and a strong candidate. Lots of challenges, and so far there a lot more people opting out rather than any viable names being placed in consideration to be challenger. There’s time, of course, for a challenger to surface – if for no other reason, to avoid the embarrassment of not fielding an opponent and for party building.

    My guess Evans could be factor if lightning strikes which would include a Thune stumble.

    Claire McCaskill, while a tough pol, actually had a competitive race in 2012 until the end, when Akin basically handed her the race w/ his incredibly infelicitous remarks.

  2. Bill Fleming

    The key here, Cory would be that Evans has to stay in the race (or at least keep his name on the ballot. ) ;-)

  3. That, Bill, and not scaring him off the ballot with our evil plot. Kurt! We could use your help!

    Money, org, strong candidate—yeah, yeah, Mark, we’ll get all that. Do you have get all practical when I’m trying to write a screenplay? ;-)

  4. Forget your screenplay. Invite Ann Tornberg & the new executive director to your party next month and let’s find a candidate NOW. CAH? BF? Any deficits in your treasury could be overcome with your energy. There just might be a senate race with a real debate.

  5. What Mark said.

  6. Lie low, be patient, and keep your powder dry.

  7. Kurt ought to run as a Libertarian. The party should be recognized by then, and as a Libertarian he’d need a small fraction of the signatures than an independent must have to get on the ballot.

    In fact, both the Libertarian and Constitution Parties should run candidates for this race.

  8. I dont want to say it but I will anyways, the only thing that would knock Thune out would be a sex scandal, even that might not be enough for the brain dead GOP’ers that like him.

    This upcoming cycle is a presidential one, and an 8 year one at that, which generally has the highest turnouts. So its not likely that enough voters could be suppressed though adverts and tricks.

    Here is how you beat someone like Thune or Rounds or Noem. Take a Democrat with a good Q rating, and decent speaking ability and run hard right. Out conservative Thune. You will lose about 10-20% of D voters, but gain about 30% from the R’s. The GOP moderates would love a chance to show how tolerant and open minded by voting for a conservative democrat.

    Run against Obamacare, run against open boarders, be a fiscal hawk, call thune and the gop out for run away spending. The thing is, nobody will care if such a person goes to DC and does the exact opposite. The republicans have been doing it for decades…

  9. Cory wrote:
    >“And maybe just by laying this possibility out, I jinx it, alerting Evans himself to the danger of a nefarious liberal plot.”

    You’re not alerting me, but you may be directly or indirectly discouraging some of my potential donors. In a Survey USA poll conducted October 1-5 of last year, 35 percent of South Dakota voters were leaning toward one of the independent candidates. That 35 percent constitutes a possible winning coalition in a three-way or four-way race.

    From a principled perspective, I think Brendan Johnson should run because he’s the South Dakota Democratic Party’s best available candidate. From a pragmatic perspective, I may need him more than he needs me.

  10. Mark, I defer to Bill Fleming. :-)

    Dale, running right as a Democrat won’t work. Ask Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. She inkled that direction with her Blue Dog stances against the ACA and numerous other Obama initiatives, and South Dakota still turned her out. It’s not Democrats’ job to offer South Dakotans Republican Lite; offered such a brew, South Dakotans will shrug and order the real deal. It’s not Republicans’ job to offer Republican Stout; that’s for real conservatives like the Libertarians, the Constutition Party (good grief, those people need an adjective: am I allowed Constitutionalists?), and Indy runners like Gordon Howie and Kurt Evans.

  11. Discouraging Kurt’s donors? Dang, sorry, Kurt! I can foresee this donor dynamic: donors could hesitate regardless of what tricks we Dems play. Let’s oversimplify, imagine some poll numbers, and posit a vaguely linear relationship between your money and your votes:

    Suppose the vote right now, before Evans spends any money, would break 60% Thune, 35% Dem, and 5% Evans.

    The moment donors give Evans money, they start taking votes away from Thune. If they give Evans just a quarter million, it’s just fun and games. Evans pulls Thune down another 5%, but Thune is still safe from the Dem.

    If donors give Evans a million (Pressler got over $700K, and his former staffers threw in another $200K in PAC bucks) and we Dems pump his real conservatism, Thune enters the danger zone. Evans rises into the 20s, pulling Thune dangerously close to the Dem to tussle for a 40% win.

    If donors pour it on and give Evans Bosworthian cash past two million (start sending your letters with cartoons of Obama with fangs to Florida retirees, Kurt!), Evans heads for that 35% Indy-curious range where he stands a chance of winning the race himself instead of just tripping Thune for the Dem.

    So Kurt, whatever advantage we Dems may take of your candidacy (and we will, just as Stalin welcomed Roosevelt into the war against the Nazis… and please don’t extend that analogy!), your donors face this choice: dink around and make no difference, go halfway and help you help Dems win, or go all out for an Evans win.

  12. SH-S is a good example to use that proves my point. Had the democrats not needed her votes on some critical things and a few misspeaks at some events she would still be representing SD in Congress.

    If you want the seat run as a conservative, gin up some astroturf like tea party stuff and you will beat Thune by 5 or 6 points and you won’t even need 25 million to do it.

  13. DaleB, you and I read SHS’s 2010 defeat from different lenses. She would have won if she had cast those votes for Dem values more often. She’d have given thousands of Democrats reasons to show up at the polls, not to mention stay on the voter registration rolls as Dems. People who want to run as Republicans need to run as Republicans. Our party’s recipe for success needs to be that we offer you something different, a real choice, not a clone of what one party is already offering you.

  14. Nancy Pelosi didnt really like SH-S either. That didn’t help. To Pelosi SH-S was expendable. I do not think it is possible for the Democrats in SD to activate enough to win a general election on an new presidential cycle. So like I said earlier, they need to either get a lot of moderate republicans to vote for them, or have some kind of scandal that makes a candidate someone a republican cant vote for. One is definitely a lot easier than the other. There is enough meat on the bone to run a right leaning democrat and be a genuine alternative to Thune. Remember that Obama in 08′ won a lot of the bigger counties in SD. He got some moderate republicans to vote for him, lost by 8% or so issues wise its not really running that much more to the right of what obama’s platform is. In other words I think Daschle’s recipe with a few minor tweaks would work.

  15. “I do not think it is possible—” That’s where you lose me, DaleB. You conservatives have it too easy in South Dakota, winning elections just by showing up and holding up the “R”. We Dems have to think big and think of ways to defy the odds that everyone tells us. A presidential election is an excellent opportunity for SD Dems to get a boost, especially if we pick a presidential nominee who will bring our Dem and Indy voters out of their seats. Plus, we’re going to have a slew of ballot measures that smart Dem candidates can use to build the Dem brand, to remind people that we are the party fighting for them while the Republicans, who are going to be against most of our ballot measures, are fighting for loan sharks, rich guys, and anything that stifles democracy.

    A right-leaning Democrat is an alternative to Thune in name only. How many Republicans do you know who are looking for an alternative like that?

  16. The ballot issues are an interesting aside to everything. It still wouldnt be enough but its better than nothing. Normally Id take great offense at linking “you conservatives” with the typical republican politician that this state seems to like electing…but I will let that go.

  17. Cory wrote:

    Discouraging Kurt’s donors? Dang, sorry, Kurt! I can foresee this donor dynamic: donors could hesitate regardless of what tricks we Dems play. Let’s oversimplify, imagine some poll numbers, and posit a vaguely linear relationship between your money and your votes:

    Suppose the vote right now, before Evans spends any money, would break 60% Thune, 35% Dem, and 5% Evans.

    The moment donors give Evans money, they start taking votes away from Thune. If they give Evans just a quarter million, it’s just fun and games. Evans pulls Thune down another 5%, but Thune is still safe from the Dem.

    If donors give Evans a million (Pressler got over $700K, and his former staffers threw in another $200K in PAC bucks) and we Dems pump his real conservatism, Thune enters the danger zone. Evans rises into the 20s, pulling Thune dangerously close to the Dem to tussle for a 40% win.

    If donors pour it on and give Evans Bosworthian cash past two million (start sending your letters with cartoons of Obama with fangs to Florida retirees, Kurt!), Evans heads for that 35% Indy-curious range where he stands a chance of winning the race himself instead of just tripping Thune for the Dem.

    So Kurt, whatever advantage we Dems may take of your candidacy (and we will, just as Stalin welcomed Roosevelt into the war against the Nazis… and please don’t extend that analogy!), your donors face this choice: dink around and make no difference, go halfway and help you help Dems win, or go all out for an Evans win.

    I’m not angry or anything, but I’d like to say for the record that there’s very little in that comment with which I agree.

  18. Kurt, you disagree? You don’t see a a midway danger zone for your efforts?

    DaleB, thanks for your leniency toward my over-simplification of your affiliation. You perhaps are not the typical Republican, but your advice that Democrats should act like Republicans sounds like what I hear many Republicans tell us… and that’s advice that I think (and that the South Dakota Democratic Party’s actions and losses in the 1930s show) serves only the interests of the SDGOP.

  19. larry kurtz

    Hey, Kurt: legal cannabis or prohibition?

  20. larry kurtz

    “Cruel wishful thinking” and PP’s poohpoohing of Kurt Evans suggests that Republicans are paying attention to his candidacy by ridiculing his chances.

  21. Cory wrote:
    >>“Kurt, you disagree? You don’t see a a midway danger zone for your efforts?”

    No, I think a lot of the so-called conventional wisdom about non-major-party candidacies is off base.

    Larry wrote:
    >“Hey, Kurt: legal cannabis or prohibition?”

    If you’re an adult, and if you’re not directly harming anyone else, mere possession or ingestion of a substance is none of the government’s business. The federal drug war is unconstitutional.

    Larry wrote:
    >“‘Cruel wishful thinking’ and PP’s poohpoohing of Kurt Evans suggests that Republicans are paying attention to his candidacy by ridiculing his chances.”

    Yeah, I noticed that comment by Spencer, and I suspect the irony is unintentional.

  22. larry kurtz

    Kurt, how will you take your message to voters?

  23. “Will it be Thune vs Nobody in 2016?” http://blog.keloland.com/politicsinkeloland/

  24. larry kurtz

    Lynn: you’re a Democrat like John Thune is fidelitous.

  25. Perhaps Frank Kloucek should run against John Thune as Kevin Woster suggests.

  26. larry kurtz

    Mail Frank a check then get back to us.

  27. Larry,

    Are you going to Cory’s shindig up there in Aberdeen Sept 12?

  28. larry kurtz

    Nothing like a trip through Zell to remind me why fewer people are dying to go to Aberdeen.

  29. Sounds great!

  30. “We might even have our first U.S. Senate debate where kolaches were served.” Kevin Woster at his Kelo Blog.

    If they and other baked goods are served at their debate made by the Tyndall Bakery it will be a well attended and yummy debate.

  31. The utility of Kurt Evans was proved in 2002 before he added baggage to his CV, as PP noted. I can’t envision any scenario in which Kurt could win, but he could still be a spoiler with the right Democratic candidate.

    But which Democrat would dare run against John Thune? There is and has been opposition research going on, and with the skeletons Sen. Thune has in his closet we will see a top tier challenger in the form of a wealthy self-funder such as Rick Weiland or Brendan Johnson who could drop $1 million of their own money into the race if they had to, knowing they have the dirt on Thune to bring the victory home with a September surprise followed up by an October surprise (and that they could raise the money after a victory to pay themselves back). The announcement won’t be made until around the first of the year. Or I could just be making all of this %^&*#$% up.

  32. And when we see that top-tier candidate jump in, we can be assured they have the goods on Thune.

  33. rohr-have yah seen Hawkes? that is a very savvy candidate for house; imagine what the senate candidate will have going on as a person, and as a democrat? intelligence can fell the third most powerful republican-who has done little except court funders. editorialist wooster and followers are shills.

  34. Mr. Evans, you should run as a Democrat party candidate if you wish against Mr. Thune. There are no other takers except maybe that Kloucek fellow and you are far more eloquent and savvy than he.

  35. larry kurtz

    Lynn, taking my comment as an affirmative like betting on whether grud chokes on his gravy taters.

  36. Larry,

    No hours and hours of spirited debate? No Marty Jackley and law enforcement welcoming you back with open handcuffs? lol :)

  37. larry kurtz

    My being a political prisoner is not in the tea leaves and Cory doesn’t need me to suck up all the oxygen in his yard.

  38. Lar, I trust you stop in Zell each time you drive through for a potty break out back behind the old convent of the Benedictines that you so love to wander through. Did you know it was haunted and the church there is for sale?

  39. Larry asks:
    >>“Kurt, how will you take your message to voters?”

    I think I have enough leverage with several South Dakota blogs and newspapers to push at least two stories into the AP next spring. My strategy from there would be determined largely by the response.

    “Rorschach” wrote:
    >“The utility of Kurt Evans was proved in 2002 before he added baggage to his CV, as PP noted.”

    Powers conveniently fails to mention that I suspended my 2002 campaign nearly three weeks before the election and endorsed Thune. That fact doesn’t seem to discourage Powers—or Thune himself—from scapegoating me for Thune’s loss:
    http://jacobtlevy.blogspot.com/2002/11/rachel-dicarlo-at-weekly-standards.html
    http://politicalsmokeout.tumblr.com/post/61206378242/libertarian-evans-to-run-for-us-senate-in-2014

    “Rorschach” wrote:
    >“I can’t envision any scenario in which Kurt could win, but he could still be a spoiler with the right Democratic candidate. … we will see a top tier challenger in the form of a wealthy self-funder such as Rick Weiland or Brendan Johnson …”

    I like Rick on a personal level, and I could understand someone’s desire to support him as a candidate who’d defend hard-left policy positions, but as I suggested in a previous comment above, I believe Brendan is more likely to make it a competitive race.

  40. I’m deeply thankful for your willingness to take my campaign seriously, Cory, and I’m sorry to announce that as of today, October 18, I’ve ended it.

  41. Mr. Evans, thank you for your service but let that be a lesson to all about smoking ditch weed.

  42. As I’ve told “Grudznick” before, I’ve never used an illegal drug. His anonymous trolling is one of the biggest reasons I rarely comment here anymore.

  43. Thanks, Mr. Evans. I take that as a huge compliment and validation of my bloggings. Did you know that you are being tailed?

  44. Hey, Grudz, that sounds like a threat of stalking. Would you care to elaborate and identify the tailers so Evans can watch out for them and report them to law enforcement?

  45. Mr. H, I cannot tail anybody. I am simply suggesting that just because somebody is into conspiracy theories doesn’t mean the government isn’t watching them. I bet we’re all being tailed, but since I rarely go anywhere the government agents tailing me get really bored or just sleep in their vans.