Former District 25 legislator Dan Ahlers tells the Federal Election Commission he’s running for U.S. Senate. That’s great—call me when Ahlers announces, and we can talk about Ahlers’s four paths to the ballot:
- Ahlers can choose to run as a Democrat and have to collect 1,615 signatures from registered Democrats by March 31.
- Ahlers can run as an independent and collect 3,393 signatures from registered voters of any party by April 28.
- Ahlers can spend a couple more months past that collecting 3,393 signatures to organize a whole new party by July 1 which could then nominate Ahlers for Senate, his Dell Rapids neighbor Brian Wirth for House, and a whole mess of other surprise down-ticket candidates by convention vote before August 11. (I really like this option! Imagine: a nice, tight three-month election!)
- Ahlers can test the Woster Gambit and run as a Republican. That would require 1,730 signatures by March 31, only 115 more than statewide candidates need to run as Democrats.
That choice is up to Ahlers. What I’m really curious about right now is what apparent candidate Ahlers will do with his initiative petition to replace gerrymandering with an independent redistricting commission.
A rational campaign manager would tell Ahlers to drop his initiative petition immediately. Dethroning Mike Rounds will require singular focus; Ahlers can’t be distracting his donors and voters with long words like gerrymandering and redistricting. Besides, trying to separate finances for a state ballot question committee and a federal election campaign would be a compliance nightmare: If Ahlers were to make a campaign stop in Huron and said, from the same microphone, “Vote to get rid of gerrymandering and Mike Rounds’s pandering!” he’d have to report that his ballot question committee paid for the trip up while his Senate committee paid for the trip back. Add different reporting laws and deadlines, and mingling a ballot question and a U.S. Senate bid becomes all the more of a distraction.
Now I could see a practical path in which a candidate would focus on a statewide ballot initiative petition drive first, then declare for Senate when that job was done. Using that petition activity as an opportunity to get around the state, garner some positive non-partisan media attention, have some educational conversations with voters, and take the temperature of voters and donors at key fall events. Let the voters see you doing some real work for them first, submit the initiative petition this November 4, then say, “You know what, South Dakota? During the petition drive, I’ve heard from tens of thousands of you that you want real change. Thus, you’ve inspired me to take another step to serve you by running for U.S. Senate!”
Maybe Ahlers can still do that, because really, one out of a thousand South Dakotans will notice the lazy flack fired at Ahlers by the SDGOP spin blog; another two out of a thousand will notice this cogitation on Ahlers’s potential candidacy on Dakota Free Press. The vast majority of voters Ahlers meets on the street during the next five weeks will have no idea he’s filed one piece of paper with the FEC.
But if Ahlers is running to beat Mike Rounds, not to mention scare off any potential primary challengers (speculation, anyone?), he’s going to need to focus. He’s going to need to hand over the anti-gerrymandering ballot question campaign entirely to his committee chair, Aaron Matson, and start spending every day raising big Sutton-sized money to challenge Rounds’s even bigger money.