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Wadhams is Back to Attack in South Dakota

May 29, 2013

Former South Dakota governor M. Michael Rounds is running for U.S. Senate in 2014.


M. Michael Rounds announced last week that he's bringing Colorado Republican consultant Dick Wadhams back to South Dakota to help his U.S. Senate campaign. Wadhams last wrought political magic (or mischief, depending on your persuasion) on South Dakota's electorate in 2004, when he led John Thune's campaign to oust Senator Tom Daschle. That "nasty but effective" campaign had national observers touting Wadhams as the next Karl Rove. But a series of subsequent losses put Wadhams on the political skids. Perhaps Wadhams need Rounds more than Rounds needs Wadhams for a résumé-refreshing win. 

What did that nasty but effective 2004 campaign look like? Wadhams declared Tom Daschle a "pathological liar." He merrily aligned Daschle with Michael Moore, Saddam Hussein and sodomy. He harangued Daschle as a prairie boy gone sour with Beltway bucks. John Thune, the handsome, homey, all-South Dakota boy who himself spent a lot of time living and lobbying in Washington after losing to Tim Johnson in 2002, said he wouldn't say such nasty things himself, "But that's why I hired Dick."

Daschle and Dems duly decried negative campaign tactics, but those tactics worked. Wadhams successfully drove South Dakotans' attention away from policy to personal politics. His fake-grassroots bloggers (unacknowledged as part of the Thune payroll until after the election) drove changes in local media coverage. And Thune beat Daschle by 4,508 votes. 

The conventional wisdom says that Rounds won the governor's office in 2002 because South Dakotans preferred his nice-guy image amidst the mudslinging that broke out between his GOP primary contenders, Steve Kirby and Mark Barnett. Hanging back and playing nice may work when you're the third guy watching two other guys throw mud at each other, but not when you're the lead dog everyone else is targeting. By hiring Wadhams, Rounds is saying he will throw big, stinky mud at whoever challenges him in 2014. 

Like Rounds, I don't subscribe to some fantasy that negative campaigning doesn't work or that decent, God-fearing South Dakotans are above such tactics. South Dakotans vote for negative campaigners. We did it in 2004 for Thune. We did it again in 2010 and 2012 for Kristi Noem, whose team piled negative attacks on Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Matt Varilek.

Frankly, I see nothing wrong with negative campaigns. They ought to be coupled with positive statements about what one's preferred candidate will do. But if an opponent supports bad policies that will cause bad things to happen, it is negative yet perfectly fitting to say, "Her policies are bad! Here's why! Don't vote for her!"

What grates my cheese about Wadhams's return to South Dakota is that his tactics show that M. Michael Rounds doesn't plan to use the 2014 election to lead South Dakotans in an honest and thorough discussion of the practical policy issues facing our state. Rounds will use Wadhams to distract us all with a circus of synthetic scandal and character assassination.

But hey, whatever works, right, Mike?


Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site.

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 is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.


12:40 pm - Wed, May 29 2013
larry kurtz said:
Call the waambulance, Cory.
01:12 pm - Thu, May 30 2013
Roger Holtzmann said:
I used to look to Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Burke for political wisdom. Nowadays I can think of no one more apropos than Lily Tomlin, who famously said, “No matter how cynical you get, you can’t keep up.”

Thank you, Cory, for reenforcing that notion.

I am an Independent, with political opinions that run from tree hugger to tea partier. Elections for me have gotten to the point where I almost don’t care about specific positions. I would JOYOUSLY vote for anyone who exhibited some shred of political integrity.

Senator Thune: prove your pontificating about the deficit isn’t just talk. Come back to South Dakota, look our citizen-legislators in the eye and say, “If we are serious about reducing the deficit the federal government will no longer be able to provide almost half of this state’s operating budget.” Don’t pretend there is a magic bullet that will solve our nation’s fiscal problems yet make only “welfare cheats” feel pain.

Senator Johnson: you voted for the Affordable Care Act. Be a standup guy and say, “Most of the money we claimed this is going to save will never materialize. I also know this is going to interject the government into an ever-increasing number of health care decisions as we go along. I still think it was a good idea because millions couldn’t afford health insurance.”

If either came within a mile of such honesty I’d fall at their feet.

Sens. Johnson and Thune are decent men, but politically they are cogs in their party machines. Rounds will be more of the same. We could pick any yahoo off the street, whether a Democrat or Republican, send them to Washington, have them regurgitate the party’s talking points, vote the party line, and basically achieve the same result.

05:52 pm - Thu, May 30 2013
Alas, Roger, any yahoo off the street doesn't have the ability to marshal a multi-million-dollar campaign war chest. And most yahoos don't care to engage with a Wadhams machine that will throw all manner of nasty words and insults at them.
06:50 pm - Thu, May 30 2013
dave tunge said:
Most of us are "any yahoos"........and we get to vote. The system tells us we get to choose who will represent us in Congress. But do we really? The Republicans and Democrats only give us the option to choose from the candidates they endorse and approve of...........which makes Roger's assessment spot on. More of the same. The "money" people and their lobbyists can effectively control a 2 party system, and have since forever. But throw in a 3rd or 4th party that is of some consequence and let's see what happens.
The idea of our representatives making a difference is absurd.......well, maybe if they play nicely with others.

And I don't think Thune won his race. Daschle lost it by 2 little TV clips. One where he declared "nobody does it better than Hillary" and the other where he proudly claimed "I am a DC resident". The most powerful man in the Senate, a master of "playing the game", gave up his career by snubbing South Dakota values.
07:43 am - Wed, June 5 2013
So what do we do, Dave? For whom do we vote? How do we make representative democracy work?
10:11 am - Wed, June 5 2013
dave tunge said:
Cory......we've not had a working representative democracy for a long time. With Congress' lowest approval rating ever do you really think they are representative of our citizenry? No, they represent who and what they need to represent to stay in office. Or, at the very best, they sell their souls to barter for good things for their home state.
I don't have any answers. It may be unchangeable at this point. Power and money have always had their way, but at least in the distant past we had more than our share of good leaders. Now we have manipulators and liars.......and that includes both parties.

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