On Monday, Vermillion resident Barry Tim Hulse filed a statement of organization for “Barry Hulse Democratic Candidate for Governor of South Dakota.” I am heartened to see a Democratic candidate use the word “Democratic” in his first official campaign document.
I am disappointed, however, to hear Hulse’s first public statement about his candidacy and come away not knowing one specific thing that he stands for. WNAX offered him the mic for a couple minutes, and here’s every word from Hulse that WNAX put on air:
I believe we need to take a different path and I see the path we are on now could be improved.
…Well, keep in mind there’s so many different—different venues, you know, different subjects, that each one of those I think the Democratic Party has a different path, and I think that needs to be looked at, and it’s been a while.
…And you know, I was listening to Tom Daschle speak, and Tom Daschle gave me a great story about—kinda like this: life is like going to a high school dance. You can either go to a dance and sit in a chair on the side of the dance floor or you can get in there and dance [Barry Tim Hulse, transcribed from audio in “Taking the First Steps to Become a Democratic Candidate for Governor,” WNAX, 2022.01.27].
It took 83 seconds for Hulse to deliver those 121 words. That’s 87 words per minute, slow enough that I can transcribe his entire statement in one typing shot, but also slow enough that most audiences will start checking their for news updates during his frequent sentence-delaying pauses.
If I restrain myself, I can crank out those gentle words in 33 seconds, a rate of 220 words per minute, not much faster than the average English speaking speed of 200 words per minute. President Barack Obama’s speaking rate in a 2010 sample was 180.4 wpm. President George W. Bush in 2008 averaged 166.9 wpm. Even Donald Trump, who had nothing substantive to say, managed to churn out his vacuities at 147.6 wpm.
An analysis of the Democratic Presidential candidates’ debate on December 19, 2019, found speaking rates, including pause time, ranging from a low 182 wpm from Senator Elizabeth Warren to a debate max of 254 words per minute from speed demon and now President Joe Biden. (In between: Bernie Sanders at 185, Tom Steyer at 203, Pete Buttigieg at 207, Amy Klobuchar at 215, and Andrew Yang at 224.) When Democrats are excited, they speak at an average of 210 wpm. Hulse’s first radio interview comes at two fifths of that speed.
Coaching point #1: Barry, pick up the pace. Don’t rush, but use the precious free air time you get to maximum advantage.
The greater problem with Hulse’s opening statement is not its leisurely pace. In 83 seconds, Hulse somehow failed to say any specific thing to distinguish himself from any other candidate who might run for Governor against the incumbent this year. He spoke of a “different path… different venues… different subjects” but didn’t tell us what needs to be different or how he differs from any other Democrat, independent, or the Republican he seeks to replace. This vague call for change could as easily come from the mouth of a Libertarian.
As Congressman Barney Frank said in 2001 when Tom Daschle became Senate Majority Leader, “This isn’t some high school dance.” Running for Governor is a real fight against real corruption, real incompetence, and real bad policy that is hurting South Dakotans and hamstringing South Dakota’s economy. Instead of invoking Tom Daschle to speak pleasantries about dancing, invoke the policies Tom Daschle stood for and the work he and other Democrats have done to solve problems for South Dakotans. Then pivot quickly to specific things you plan to do to carry on that tradition of Democratic problem-solving. Voters need to hear current critiques of current problems, like low wages, affordable housing and child care and healthcare, school funding, taxes and wealth distribution, environmental protection, economic development, and protection of democracy, that we need to fix by electing a new Governor.
That last paragraph is 139 words. I just timed speaking them in 48 seconds—174 words per minute. I could have laid out that mission statement in the time WNAX gave Hulse and still had 25 seconds left to say a few more words that would make campaign donors far and wide say, “Hey, there’s a guy who can beat Kristi Noem! Let’s write him a check!”
Coaching point #2: Barry, make every second count. Prepare talking points that you can deliver passionately yet automatically, without hesitation, in every interview. Use every second to inspire voters, rally donors and volunteers, and put your opponent on defense.
Hulse has 60 days, until March 29, to collect signatures from 1,615 registered Democratic voters on his nominating petition.