The Sioux Falls mayor’s race heads for a runoff election to be held a little more than two weeks from now.
It’s down to two candidates; Paul TenHaken and Jolene Loetscher.
We’ll be talking with her about her game plan for the new Election Day coming up.
But we begin here with Paul TenHaken. We met up with him in downtown Sioux Falls the day after Election Day to discuss runoff politics.
“It’s time to rally the troops and figure out what the next three weeks look like.” When we met up with Paul TenHaken he had just come off of election night and had about three hours of sleep under his belt….but nonetheless determined to begin the process of building the second phase of his mayoral campaign. “There’s no chance to sleep in, to bask in a victory, you’re going already so today has honestly been the busiest day of any day for me on this campaign thus far and we’re less than 24 hours from last night.”
The trend towards TenHaken started early in the process of the primary election ballots being counted; a constant one-two race with challenger Jolene Loetscher.
TenHaken tells me he didn’t believe the results….or feel free to believe in them…until about one-third of the ballots had been counted. “When we went from about 25 to about 35 percent of the precincts reporting and our numbers hadn’t changed at all and we were just holding at the same point it kind of sunk in like all right, I think we’re going to stay here.”
So with the initial election behind him what does the next step hold? What will Paul TenHaken do? He tells me candidly that he’s done the math on the initial results and he knows he has a lot of work to do; that this next phase of this mayor’s race will not be a cake walk at all. “What you do now is just work on getting your core message out to even more voters. We had about a 30% turnout right in there. That means 70% of the people stayed home and of those 30% that turned out 65% didn’t vote for Paul TenHaken. So I’ve got work to do to convince those 65% to say hey I wasn’t your guy round one….I want to be your guy round two and here’s why.”
TenHaken told me that when he was done with our interview he was headed off to make a series of phone calls to people he knew had supported other candidates in the race…to see if there was a way he could win them over to his way of thinking.
At the same time, the TenHaken campaign had already started an intense overview of the election results, diving into the numbers to see what they might be able to learn. “The message stays the same but some of the tactics will shift. So we’ve gone back and looked at the precincts and said ‘OK what precincts did we perform well in? Where do we need some work and what does the voter in that precinct look like?’ and some of the media strategies will have to shift based on that.”
The difficult part for a candidate who finds themselves in a runoff election is trying to figure out what, if anything, needs to change or be tweaked for a campaign point of view. Do you try to run the exact same type of campaign or do you somehow branch out in an effort to stake more political ground? And then there’s the time factor: a lot of things have to get figured out in the three weeks between the first election and the May 1st runoff. “It’s hard because you get no breather. You go right from this April 10th election to a three week runoff and you used all your powder and you ran hard to get to April 10th and at 6am April 11th you gotta go again.”
TenHaken announced his candidacy for Sioux Falls mayor in August of 2017. “Hi my name is Paul TenHaken and I am extremely excited to be sharing with you that I’m running to be the next mayor of Sioux Falls.”
Throughout the campaign TenHaken has made a point to say he is running because he has a servant’s heart and wants to do something good for the city that has been so good to him and his family. “I feel an intense passion to do this. So even today as I’m driving around thinking ‘Wow, I could be the mayor of this city in a month’ and I get excited. I get nervous but it really reaffirms the calling I feel to do this.”
I asked TenHaken what part of this specifically was making him nervous? “You have to be a little bit nervous anytime you take on a responsibility this big cause that nervousness keeps you sharp. When you talk about taking over a $450 million budget, $300 million in debt, 1,300 employees…our rising crime and narcotics issue. There’s some challenges ahead of us.”
And for being one of the last two standing in this contest mayor’s race….TenHaken says he is grateful to have made it this far. “Extremely humbling. There’s almost on words to put to it and I campaigned on just being Paul TenHaken and I am who I am. What you see here is the same guy you’re going to see in the Carpenter Bar over there, it’s the same guy you’re going to see picking up kids from school.”