Kristi Noem and Larry Rhoden see Stace Nelson coming, and they lay a trap!
Around lunchtime yesterday the Draft Dan Kaiser for Lieutenant Governor Facebook page turned into the Draft Stace Nelson for Lieutenant Governor page. Shortly thereafter, the Noem/Rhoden campaign posted Rhoden’s formal withdrawal from his District 29 House race.* In this withdrawal notice, Noem and Rhoden adopt this blog’s legal analysis that any candidate currently entitled to be on the ballot for Legislature who is seeking nomination to another office at convention must (irrevocably!) withdraw from his or her Legislative race:
…[T]here have been differing opinions as far as what the letter of the law requires in a case like mine where I am also presently a candidate for the State House. In my view, regardless of the “legal interpretations” of the law, the intent of the law is clear: no one should be a candidate for more than one office at the same time.
I believe that is what the law intends, and what the people of this state expect. For that reason this letter is my notice to you that I officially withdraw my candidacy as the Republican nominee for the House or Representatives, District 29 [Rep. Larry Rhoden, letter to Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, 2018.06.21].
Rhoden here doesn’t just fulfill the legal requirement to give the Secretary of State formal notice of his withdrawal. Rhoden and his matron Noem are making a political statement: I’m serious enough about pursuing this nomination to give up my bid for reëlection to the Legislature. Any challenger who declines to do the same is not serious.
Rhoden’s withdrawal could be a challenge to both Nelson and to Nelson’s best buddy in the Senate, Lance Russell, who still hasn’t pulled out of the District 30 Senate race (less than ten hours left to do that, Lance, if you want to seek nomination for Attorney General! and don’t give up now—Ravnsborg is on the ropes!). Nelson and Russell have both been a thorn in the Noem/Rhoden/GOP establishment‘s side. Poking them on the withdrawal/dual candidacy issue is a smart way to complicate any bid those two might make for nominations on Saturday.
Part of me hopes Nelson presses the issue, does not withdraw from the District 19 Senate race, and gets one of his Mugwump pals to nominate him for Lieutenant Governor tomorrow. I’d love to see Senator Deb Peters cry, “Point of order!” and entangle the convention in parliamentary chaos. But such fun would completely distract from the whole point of Nelson’s protest candidacy, the effort of the extremist right wing of the GOP to hold the establishment opportunists of their party accountable for their political cronyism and hypocrisy. (Besides, Stace, would you really want to ride shotgun with Kristi all summer and fall? I think I know the answer.)
If conservatives want to have that fight, they need to avoid the dual candidacy trap that Noem and Rhoden are ready to spring. Keep Stace Nelson in his District 19 race and on the Senate floor, where he can do more good for the hard-right cause than he could under Noem’s thumb. Find a lieutenant governor nominee who isn’t already on the ballot—Ed Randazzo? Shawn Tornow? Tonchi Weaver? Gordon Howie? Neal Tapio?—and get straight to raising heck on Saturday morning!
*Oh! While I’m thinking of it, District 29 Republicans, the obvious choice to fill Rhoden’s vacancy on the November ballot is Bill Kluck of Mud Butte, who came closer to unseating an incumbent than any other newcomer/challenger in South Dakota’s Legislative primaries. Send that hat to Pierre!