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Centrist Project to Independents: Keep Head Down, Get Emotional

Kurt Evans dropped his Independent bid for U.S. Senate last October. No other Independent has signaled an interest, and we’re still waiting for a Democrat to take up the challenge against incumbent Republican John Thune.

But the Centrist Project, which backed Larry Pressler in his 2014 Senate campaign, may be ready to back a come-lately Independent in South Dakota. Centrist Project founder Charlie Wheelan says it may even be better for that aspiring Indy to keep a low profile for now and during the campaign:

Wheelan said the Pressler and Orman campaigns suggest that it may be best for independent candidates to keep low profiles as late in the cycle as possible.

“It’s very counterintuitive for politics, but the nature of these races is you kind of got to sneak up from the middle,” Wheelan said. “They both peaked too early” [“Centrist Project, Which Backed Pressler in 2014, Looks Ahead,” AP via Pierre Capital Journal, 2016.01.03].

Wheelan’s advice is based on the fact that both Republicans and Democrats attacked Pressler in fall 2014 to beat back his surge. I would contend that any campaign strategy based on not being noticed is a bad strategy. From the moment you declare, you want everyone to notice your campaign. You can’t wish away attacks: if you’re good, attacks will happen. You have to build a campaign so strong that you can withstand any attack.

Wheelan also recommends that Independent candidates get emotional:

The 2014 election results offered several other lessons that are shaping the project’s mission. The organization this past year has spent considerable time honing its branding and marketing efforts with a focus on trying to connect with independents on an emotional level.

“How can we take what’s really kind of a cerebral, wonkish idea — both the strategy and what they stand for — and wrap it in something that resonates more emotionally?” he asked [AP, 2016.01.03].

Dang—a big part of what I liked about Pressler was that he played the cerebral wonk. He talked policy rather than emotion. Wheelan is recommending that future Presslers be more like Donald Trump. I agree that candidates must play to the mind and the gut. But responsible candidates should not let that emotional wrapping get in the way of engaging voters in real conversations about real policy. Responsible candidates need to show that one can find emotion in good policy and in the good it can do for all South Dakotans.

The Centrist Project ma not find an Independent to back in South Dakota in 2016. But perhaps they will find a passionate Democrat who is willing to take on John Thune’s do-nothing partisanship with the right combination of practical policy smarts and a compelling sales pitch.


  1. Paul Seamans 2016-01-04 10:44

    To beat John Thune you need a candidate who is younger, taller, slimmer, better looking and not only is a basketball star but also plays football.

  2. 96Tears 2016-01-04 12:44

    Among the top five symptoms you’re dealing with political amateurs is they spend most of their energy fighting the last election and not enough effort winning the one in front of them. Basing anything from the (non)performance of the 2014 Pressler campaign is a waste of valuable time. And if you’re running Pressler in 2016 as an indie, forget 2014.

  3. Rorschach 2016-01-04 14:47

    Donald Trump is proof that a significant percentage of the population wants somebody that they like. Trump voters care less about what he says than about how he says it. He has already insulted most of his voters and insulted the intelligence of his supporters and non-supporters alike. Trump’s people just like his style.

    I’m convinced that President Obama’s troubles stem from the fact that so many voters want Captain Kirk, but he’s Mr. Spock. (A good number just don’t like vulcans).

    What the Centrist Project is advocating is the Mike Rounds 2002 primary strategy. Keep your head down. Let the other candidates beat each other up. Emerge as the adult in the room. And make yourself likeable. Rounds did that on somewhat of a shoestring budget. Like Pressler he had name recognition and significant government experience to boost his credibility, but without so much baggage. The best candidate the Centrist Project could get for the US Senate race would be somebody like that. How about a retired judge? Art Rusch? Tim Johns?

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-04 18:59

    Dang, Paul, you’re telling me we have to perpetuate the jockocracy? I think a short spitfire could take him.

    96, good advice on hitting the Reset button. 2016 is not 2014.

    Rohr, that’s one of the best Star Trek metaphors for the Obama years that I’ve heard. Thank you.

    But didn’t Pressler follow that route? Wasn’t he pretty much playing the adult in the room, not engaging much in attack politics? Wasn’t Pressler going to get attacked, no matter what tack he took, the moment he showed he might pull double digits?

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-04 19:02

    (Jerry, I may need to write about that class-action lawsuit shield tomorrow! Has Noem, Rounds, or Thune mentioned it yet?)

  6. jerry 2016-01-04 19:35

    Not in any reports that I have seen. News reports have not mentioned it so with the three amigos, no news is good news. This bunch clearly loves the shadows unless they are trying to beat up on poor people or Obama.

  7. jerry 2016-01-04 19:38

    With the situation in Iran and ISIS Arabia getting out of hand. You know that oil prices are gonna rise with tension, so to beat up on poor VW would be terrible during these times when they can be useful pouring that money back into the coffers of their benefactors.

  8. Rorschach 2016-01-04 19:44

    Pressler had a good campaign strategy. He just had too much baggage. People remembered that he had his time – a lot of it, and it ended 18 years ago. And the voters he wanted didn’t trust him because what he said was so different from what he did in office. Right strategy. Wrong candidate for it.

  9. Rorschach 2016-01-04 19:51

    I know of one Republican who may run so that Thune doesn’t have another free pass. If he runs it will not be as a Republican because he wants to be an alternative for the November election. If nobody else steps forward, this might happen. The deadline for independents to get on the ballot is later than the deadline for party candidates. It’s not somebody who has ever held office.

  10. 96Tears 2016-01-04 20:13

    I respectfully disagree, R. Pressler’s strategy failed the moment he filed for candidacy because, as you indicate, he had all that baggage and a lot less energy than he had in the 90s. Having observed him during the campaign on TV events and in person a few times, it was clear he was just floating along. His ABSCAM ad was stale and lacked relevance because of bad writing and worse production. He was an automaton on his best days. It was embarrassing to watch, and you could see in the eyes of whomever drew the short straw that day to accompany him on the campaign trail that it was embarrassing to them as well. Having said all this, for all the life and vigor evident in the Weiland candidacy, it sure didn’t translate into votes, and the racketeer Mike Rounds slid along unscathed.

    That was 2014. This is 2016. John Thune is going to be insulating his campaign from the debacle generated in the GOP presidential campaign. The SDGOP strategy will be to keep everything quiet in South Dakota and stay out of the news. They will get a lot of help from the press. If the Democrats field a candidate, she/he will get an announcement story and will be ignored until a week before the election by reporters and editors who will bend over backwards to suck up to Thune by giving him generous space on page 1, just as Sanford Leader did this past week with softball features.

    If an indie or Democrat candidate is going to make it, he/she needs to find a way to smash the way the SDGOP and the compliant media rig elections every two years.

  11. Rorschach 2016-01-04 21:15

    96, it sounds like you’re agreeing with me that Pressler was just the wrong candidate for the strategy.

    Nothing will smash the way the SDGOP and the compliant media rig elections, except maybe indictments of Joop Bollen and Mike Rounds from the federal government. That’s what I’m hoping for. I’d like to see two senate seats up for election next year.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-05 22:18

    Ror, if you really have a guy in the chute (you said “he”), tell us! Or tell me back-channel, and let me talk to this guy!

    Independent filing deadline is April 26, four weeks after the partisan filing deadline of March 29.

    It sounds as if you’re saying this Republican only runs if no one else files by March 29, and even then only maybe. Is that correct? And just how costly would this Republican be willing to make Thune’s pass? How hard would he campaign? On what issues does he want to challenge Thune and hold him accountable?

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