Four Republicans and one Democrat have announced they are running for governor.
One group is hiding out in an affordable housing apartment building in northern Sioux Falls.
Another group is building a castle, complete with moat and drawbridge, near Eureka.
Others have simply gone on the run, figuring they can outrun the hounds and evade capture by fleeing into the bush.
Who are they? They are the GOP’s money men and money women. That small universe of wealthy South Dakotans who have the financial resources to write big checks to multiple political candidates.
And they are being battered with requests for money this year, given the two marquee names running for governor in Attorney General Marty Jackley and Congresswoman Kristi Noem. Then there is the open U.S. House seat, which has its own demands for campaign cash.
But it’s the governor’s race that is causing consternation among many of the check writers. Between Noem and Jackley, it’s hard to make a decision. Which horse do you back? Desperate times call for desperate measures, which is why dozens of south Sioux Falls McMansions were boarded up, their occupants figuring that the campaigns would never think to look for them in an affordable housing complex.
They know they can’t hide out in their winter retreats in Florida or California, or their ski lodges or their lake homes. The campaigns know about those places and they are being monitored 24-7 for activity by surveillance drones. One esteemed doctor found this out the hard way when the Jackley campaign tracked him to Lake Okoboji. Next thing you know he’s hosting a fundraiser there, which came after his partner hosted a fundraiser for Noem.
Indeed, among some of them, there is the thought that perhaps it’s simply best to cut a check to both campaigns. To stop running. The life of the fugitive is a hard one.
Many others are in search of some sign about who has the better chance of winning the GOP nomination in next June’s primary. There is a strong desire to see polling data. If they can just see who is ahead, who has the better chance of winning, then maybe they’ll write a check.
I’m not going to lie to you. There are polls. Oh, yes. Polls.
Now, we don’t typically write stories based on polls that we don’t conduct ourselves. That’s because we have no control over the questions, the sample size and other factors. Polling results are easy to manipulate, in part because many voters are dumb. Thus, the Noem campaign might contrive a poll in which people are asked: “Would you vote for Marty Jackley if you knew he threw a bag of puppies into the Missouri River?”
Well of course people wouldn’t vote for a monster like that.
Then the poll might ask: “Would you be more likely to vote for Kristi Noem if you knew she helped James Madison write the Bill of Rights?”
Heck yeah, a lot of voters would say. We like them Bill of Rights.
Next thing you know, the Noem campaign is telling the world about a poll showing her with a commanding lead.
That’s why we are careful about how we use polls.
Now, back to the polling in this race. I’m aware of one poll showing one of the candidates with a double-digit lead. I’m told there is another poll showing the other candidate with a healthy lead.
Both campaigns are hoping the polls can woo supporters. To persuade the money people to come out of hiding and write checks.
Here, however, is a cautionary tale for those hoping to predict the future with current polling data.
In 1985, the political situation was similar to today’s. Bill Janklow was leaving office after two terms as governor, making it an open seat. On the Republican side, there were some big names in the race.
A poll conducted that summer showed former GOP Congressman Clint Roberts with 30 percent. Lt. Gov. Lowell Hansen was at 25 percent. Secretary of State Alice Kundert had 16 percent. And a former state lawmaker from Brookings by the name of George Mickelson had a paltry 9 percent.
That was the snapshot in time at roughly the same period we’re in before the 2018 primary.
We all know what happened. Mickelson carried the day, beating Roberts, his closest competitor, by about 3,500 votes. He then went on to win the governor’s race.
Which tells us that polling data this far out before the election is perhaps interesting, but can’t be relied upon to divine the future.
Take heed, GOP money men and money women hoping to pick the winner. The polling this far out isn’t necessarily a great indicator of future results.
And that means you’d better keep running. The hounds are getting closer.
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