Press "Enter" to skip to content

Mel Olson Under-Predicts Jay Williams’ Vote Count Against John Thune

Oh, Mel….

One of my favorite former legislators and debate coaches, Mel Olson, teaches AP Government at Mitchell High School. The freshly recessed Senator John Thune visited class yesterday. Good Democrat Mel welcomed Thune with a favorable election prediction and joking dismissal of Thune’s opponent:

During a visit from Thune to former state legislator Mel Olson’s Advanced Placement government course at Mitchell High School on Monday, Olson predicted Thune would earn 76 percent of the vote in a race against Democratic challenger Jay Williams for a spot in the U.S. Senate.

“I mean, I’m a Democrat, and I can’t remember the guy’s name that you’re running against,” Olson joked [Evan Hendershot, “Former Democratic Legislator Predicts Huge Re-election Victory for Sen. Thune,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2016.10.05].

Ho-dee-ho-ho, chortles the GOP spin blog, which again confuses singular and plural and says one joke from one Democrat means “Democrats,” plural, are “writing off Jay Williams.”

Jay Williams—that’s his name, Mel. And Williams says, wait for the debates:

“Sen. Thune, as the incumbent with millions of out-of-state campaign funds, is surely the favorite,” Williams said on Tuesday. “I think Mr. Olson would do better to wait until after the three televised debates between Sen. Thune and me have happened before making his prediction.”

Thune and Williams, a Yankton businessman and former U.S. Navy pilot, will first square off at 8 p.m. on Oct. 13 in a forum aired by South Dakota Public Broadcasting. A second forum will be held on Oct. 14 and a third is scheduled to air on Oct. 24.

After watching the debates, Williams said it’s up to the voters to determine whether they are happy with the performance of the U.S. Congress or would like to elect a fresh face.

“I believe the voters of South Dakota want to have a real choice in this election, and my campaign is giving them that choice,” Williams said [Hendershot, 2016.10.05].

Jay Williams has raised less money that Corinna Robinson did for her 2014 House bid, but when he has spoken here in Aberdeen and elsewhere, Williams has demonstrated a stronger grasp of policy and a more consistent ability to attack Thune’s weaknesses (like bowing to Trump and writing to the Iranian mullahs). Putting Williams and those critiques on the statewide stage of the debates will win him more votes than Robinson’s less-than-aggressive debate appearances did. Robinson still managed to win 33.47% of the vote in 2014. I’ll echo Williams’s own assessment that he’s a longshot, but I’ll contend that Olson significantly underestimates Williams’s vote count. Williams will at least match Robinson’s tally… and if he can keep pressing his message and calling voters to conscience on Thune’s Trumpism, Jay Williams will push that tally notably higher.


  1. Bob Newland 2016-10-06

    Mel Olson was always a prick.

    In the immortal words of Rep. Mike Koehn, “F*** Mel Olson.

  2. Bob Newland 2016-10-06

    Mel Olson was always a prick.

    In the immortal words of Rep. Mike Koehn, “F*** Mel Olson.”

  3. Troy Jones 2016-10-06


    I know (not well) and like Jay. I respect that he fell on the sword so Senator Thune doesn’t go unopposed two times in a row. My heart doesn’t want him embarrassed. But, I will hold you to your more than 33% prediction. Mel will be closer to the final results than you.

  4. Wayne F 2016-10-06

    I don’t know who you are, Bob Newland, or Mike Koehn. But the Mel Olson I know is not a prick. He was a dedicated public servant who just got tired of banging his head against the wall in a republican-majority congress. He is an effective teacher who’s either been misquoted or misunderstood vis-à-vis his assessment of Jay Williams.

  5. Bernie 2016-10-06

    I know Jay Williams quite well. I know he has a very tough race. So does Jay. He’s smarter than most of us so it’s not as if he is living in some imaginary world.

    That makes his fight all the more admirable, as suggested above by Troy’s comment.

    As George Elliott once said, “Any coward can fight a battle when he’s assured of winning but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he’s sure of losing.”

    A loss isn’t a sure thing for Jay, but his fight sure takes a lot more courage than it takes to run with $10 million and an establishment advantage. Jay deserves nothing but thanks and praise.

  6. mikeyc, that's me! 2016-10-06

    Good to hear from you, Bernie.
    Well said.

  7. grudznick 2016-10-06

    My friend Bob often knows some about what he types.

  8. mike from iowa 2016-10-06

    Since Daschle was defeated, wingnuts of South Dakota have wasted millions on incompetent representation in DC. Hopefully this is the year the tide turns.

  9. Moses11 2016-10-06

    I know photo op won;t get my vote.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-06

    Troy, I’ll hold to my 33%+ call. Williams is a better candidate than Robinson. He should logically get more votes. Be ready to comment here bright and early November 9!

  11. Mark Winegar 2016-10-06

    Jay Williams is right on the issues while nobody can name one thing John Thune has done for South Dakota. Yes, let’s see what happens after the debates.

  12. gtr 2016-10-06

    According to the Secretary of State’s 2010 election results 319,426 voters marked their ballot for Noem, Herseth or Marking in the US House race. In that years Senate race 227,947 voters marked their ballot for Thune running unopposed. By my math, Thune got 71.3% of potential votes in that election and 28.7% decided not to vote for Thune at all. Cory I think you will be closer. I don’t think Thune has all of a sudden picked up more support from those that wouldn’t vote for him running unopposed.
    Williams has my vote and would be a fine Senator.

  13. Moses11 2016-10-07

    Why vote for a person who takes photo ops and gives lip service and does nothing except stand behind Mcconell and says repeal Obama care.

  14. bearcreekbat 2016-10-07

    Well, Mark W, when you say “nobody can name one thing John Thune has done for South Dakota,” don’t overlook Thune’s recent vote to override the President’s veto of the bill authorizing citizens of the US to sue Saudi Arabia for 9/11 damages. Now it looks as if this legislation has opened the door for citizens of other countries, such as Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, etc to sue the USA and to sue South Dakota military personnel in the event they they allegedly caused deaths of civilians during military operations in the foreign country.

    I am not sure Thune gets full credit though, as the Republican leadership is now blaming Obama for his failure to stop the veto override vote. That blame should soon morph to Hillary since she has caused virtually every bad event since the great flood. Just ask Hickey if you don’t believe me.

  15. Adam 2016-10-07

    I love Jay Williams. I hope we all learn something from him. The guy makes more and better sense than most people who ever run for office in South Dakota.

    When he reminds voters about how Thune beat Daschle by wrongly calling him an obstructionist, and how Thune’s entire career as a politician has been built on wild-eyed obstructionism – Jay Williams is 100% correct, and it really floats my boat. In fact, I’m not sure Jay Williams could be wrong about anything at all – dude’s really smart and articulate.

    Thune is a soulless GOP robot. There’s nothing South Dakota about him.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-08

    That’s interesting math from gtr. It does seem unlikely that Thune opposed gets a higher percentage than Thune unopposed. It seems Williams also has a moral advantage that Robinson did not in 2014. Trump’s misogyny will play at an emotional level that Rounds’s EB-5 did not. If Thune doesn’t renounce Trump, Williams can continue to bash Thune for supporting a vile man for President and shame Thune, a father of daughters, for not speaking out against such misogyny.

    Bear, the ability of Republicans to shift the blame for their actions to Democrats is endless. They just can’t admit their own failures. (Funny: overturning an Obama veto for the first time should play as a GOP success!)

  17. Craig 2016-10-10

    Mel Olson is a great teacher – one of the hardest I ever had but at the same time one of the few who actually had me interested in learning. He is also a engaging speaker. Had he opted to move to another state I have no doubt he would be running for higher office, but in the GOP stronghold that is South Dakota I fully understand him not wanting to waste his time.

    That said, I’m not sure how close his predictions are. I’m sure he was balancing a number that wouldn’t hurt the ego of his guest while still expressing that a certain number of voters are going to vote for their party regardless (see exhibit Trump).

    Robinson wasn’t as strong of a candidate, but Robinson wasn’t running against John Thune, so that isn’t a fair comparison. I think everyone agrees that John Thune is much more popular in our state than Noem or Rounds. The final tally could be surprising, but I’m guessing will hover around the 30% mark at best. This is no fault of Williams of course – Jesus himself couldn’t win against John Thune if he ran as a Democrat in South Dakota.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-10-10

    Craig reasonably challenges my Robinson-based optimism. The not-Noem default vote is probably larger than the not-Thune default vote (although we can hope Trumpist retaliation may boost the latter). Williams has a higher hill to climb than Robinson did in 2014 and than Hawks has in 2016.

Comments are closed.