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Jun 11, 2014
South Dakota Democrats had the least to vote on in last week's primary, but they had the most interesting race. Most folks knew that incumbent Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Nine-Million-Dollar Man Mike Rounds would have a relatively easy time securing the Republican nominations for Governor and U.S. Senator, respectively. But in the Democratic tussle for the gubernatorial nomination, it was anyone's guess who would win, Rep. Susan Wismer from Britton or Joe Lowe from Piedmont. Would Wismer's direct mail trump Lowe's TV and newspaper ads? Would Wismer be able to make up for campaign time she lost due to her job preparing taxes for her Britton neighbors? Would Wismer's accountantly reserve withstand Lowe's direct, personable and passionate style?
Wismer appears to have stamped a yes on all three questions with her 11-point victory over Lowe last Tuesday. Then again, all three of those points may have given Lowe genuine advantages; they may simply not have been enough to overcome Wismer's biggest advantage: her status as a Democratic Party veteran, able to activate a built-in network of donors, volunteers and influential get-out-the-vote callers.
Lowe voters (I know whereof I speak; I am one!) had a sense that Lowe represented more of a break from the status quo, both from a South Dakota Democratic Party whose caution hasn't posted many wins in the last two elections and from a Republican regime that Lowe says has bred a “culture of corruption.” Our Lowe-as-change-agent has two strong ironies. If we are concerned about a one-party good-old-boys' club, no one disrupts that paradigm more iconically than only the second woman ever nominated for South Dakota governor. (The first: Alice Daly, Nonpartisan League, 1922.) And Lowe himself worked for three of the Republican administrations as state fire chief. Some would say he benefited from the corrupt regime he would now overturn; Lowe would say he simply had a front-row seat to witness that corruption every day during over a decade of honorable service to South Dakota. And hey — Democrats nominated a former Republican state senator for governor and a guy who was registered Republican until the week of the convention for his lieutenant in 2010, so who are we Dems to hold a guy's past Republican associations against him?
If Lowe did represent change, his 11-point primary loss reminds us that Democrats must work hard to upset the established order in their own party. And even if we can unite behind Wismer as our change agent, the broader primary results remind us that changing South Dakota will be even harder. 12,283 Democrats and Independents came out to vote for Lowe in a competitive race. 15,311 voted for Wismer. 60,017 Republicans voted for Dennis Daugaard in an in-the-bag primary. Put Lowe and Wismer together (Wowe! I mean, Whoa!), and last Tuesday, Daugaard still would have beaten them. Twice. (Maybe I mean Woe!)
Electing a Democrat of any flavor, Wismer or Lowe, to the governor's office would represent a major change. But electing a Democrat statewide in South Dakota will require an enthusiasm for change that is found in neither the Democratic or Republican primary results.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.