Alabama and South Dakota GOP Primary "Endorsements"

On Tuesday June 3rd, Alabama and South Dakota will hold primary elections.  In Alabama, there are three contested congressional district races and a Governor’s race to examine.  For Governor, incumbent Republican Robert Bentley faces two primary challengers- Stacy George and Bob Starkey.  Despite the primary opposition, Bentley appears, by all accounts, practically unbeatable in a general election.  One poll put his approval rating at 80% among conservatives and 70% among likely GOP voters.  In 2010, Bentley’s weakness was fundraising.  Then, the Alabama Education Association helped bankroll his campaign, but has since soured on him.  In the 2010 election, 67% of the state’s public school teachers voted for him, but a recent poll indicates only 16% would do so this time out.

In order to keep this seat, the GOP must field the most electable candidate.  He may likely face an opponent who matches the criteria for Democrats to defeat Bentley- a moderate, business-friendly challenger.  There is competition on the Democratic side and former Republican congressman Parker Griffith should emerge the winner for the Democrats.  Incumbency has its advantages and its disadvantages.  Bentley is described as a low-key, “grandfatherly” type who does not raise funds well and reacts slowly on the campaign trail.  And that is Stacy George’s knock on Bentley- he is a reactive, not a proactive Governor.

All things considered- the most important being Bentley’s high approval ratings among the people of Alabama- this writer endorses the candidacy of Robert Bentley.

In the Third congressional district which extends east from Montgomery, incumbent Mike Rogers faces opposition from banker Thomas Casson whose efforts will be Herculean at best.  This is a fairly reliable Republican district (Cook +16 Republican) although I rate it higher than that.  The winner will face a Democratic political neophyte in Jesse Smith.  Regardless, this writer sees little reason to shift course here and endorses Mike Rogers.

In the Fifth District, Mo Brooks faces a token challenge from frequent candidate Jerry Hill and, again, there is little reason to shift course and I endorse Mo Brooks.  In the 6th District, GOP incumbent Spencer Bachus is (finally) stepping down leaving this an open race.  There are seven candidates vying for this seat on the GOP side.  According to the Cook Political Report, this is one of the most Republican districts in the country (PVI= +28 Republican).  Generally, I rely little on endorsements by outside groups when it comes to candidates.  However, in this case there are way too many to ignore and they encompass a who’s who of conservative entities such as the Club For Growth, Citizen’s United, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Senator Mike Lee (I like this guy), and Redstate itself, among others.  Who am I to buck this trend.  Given the Republican slant of this district, the only choice here is Dr. Chad Mathis to succeed Spencer Bachus.

In South Dakota, only the Governor’s race and an open Senate seat currently held by a Democrat are being contested in the Republican primary.  For Governor, incumbent GOP Dennis Daugaard, perhaps one of the most popular governors in the country seeks reelection and will face Lora Hubbel,  One can only guess that her candidacy is predicated upon gaining name recognition for a future run for office.  It would make little sense to change courses now and this writer fully endorses the reelection of Dennis Daugaard.

As expected, Democratic Senator Tim Johnson is stepping down.  There are five Republicans vying to take on the Democratic candidate Rick Weiland.   They are: physician Annette Bosworth, state representative Stace Nelson, attorney Jason Ravnsborg, state senate majority whip Larry Rhoden and former governor Mike Rounds.  Almost from the start, whether Johnson opted for another term or not, this was Rounds’ race to lose.  Practically every poll shows him ahead over Weiland by at least ten points.  Furthermore, the large leads have been rather consistent over time.  The reason is that Rounds presided over a period of economic growth in South Dakota and where the unemployment rate was half that of the country during the height of the recession.  Rounds left office in 2010 a rather popular governor.

In all honesty, any of the five candidates would make a decent choice to succeed Johnson.  Redstate has endorsed Larry Rhoden; however some polls indicate a weakness against Weiland in a general election.  Before anyone goes off and claims victory for Rounds however, there are some factors to be considered.  Early on, Rounds held margins well above 50% over Weiland, but they have dropped of late.  Most of that early Rounds support was due to a lack of name recognition on the part of Weiland.  A recent PPP poll shows that South Dakota voters may prefer the policies of Weiland over those of Rounds, but keep in mind that PPP is a Democratic-slanted polling service.  Still, there may be shreds of truth in the poll.  This should be grounds for avoiding a knee-jerk endorsement of Rounds.

The problem is twofold.  First, this is basically a 3-horse race between Rounds, Nelson and Rhoden with the other two entering the race late and now playing catch up.  There may be minute differences between the remaining three in terms of policy prescriptions and beliefs, but enough for any one to exploit with respect to the others.  No doubt, Weiland is waiting to exploit any differences that are highlighted.

The second factor is that Larry Pressler has inexplicably at the age of 72 entered this race as an independent.  Thus far, he is polling at about 15%.  As many are aware, come general election time, two things happen.  First, their initial poll numbers decline well below those Pressler may be enjoying now.  However, secondly, these independent candidates tend to siphon off votes from the Republican candidate in a general election.  Sometimes those siphoned votes make no difference as one or the other major party candidates simply excels.  But, in close races they can make a difference.  Thus far, Pressler shows no signs of dropping out of the race.

With all these considerations in mind, trends may be the better indicator of the more electable candidate in the GOP primary.  Although I am tempted to go with Rounds given his record as governor, he is trending in the wrong direction while a Rhodes or Nelson may trend positively as the general election nears.  Weiland is likely gearing up for a run against Rounds so throwing a monkey wrench in those plans may not be a bad strategy.  Therefore, not because Redstate’s Erick Erickson supports him, but because Rhodes may provide a more stark option against Weiland without going over the proverbial line, this writer supports the candidacy of Larry Rhodes cognizant of the fact that Rounds will likely win.  We then keep our fingers crossed and hope he can defeat Weiland in the general election since this seat plays very prominently in the GOP’s plans to win the Senate.