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].
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.