A New Wrinkle in South Dakota Debate Issue

It seems that the debate saga between Senator Tim Johnson and his Republican challenger Joel Dykstra is not resolved. In fact, things are just heating up.

Since the original news of Johnson announcing that he will not debate Joel Dykstra, the electorate perked up and became interested. Here is a round table of news clippings on this issue from around the state.On Tuesday, August 5th, three days before the “no debate’ announcement was made, there was this letter to the editor in Aberdeen, S Dakota newspaper “The American News”.

Need Televised Debate

A quote from the letter to the editor:

I went to the Eagles Club to attend a round-table discussion of the new farm bill that was reported by the American News. Upon entering, I was told it was a closed meeting, only Sen. Tim Johnson and four local people were allowed access to a closed room.

There were several farm operators in attendance who couldn’t gain entrance. At least six times I was asked why I was there. My response: I’m interested in the farm bill and it is important to our economy. I want to know what it covers and the round table would give me a grasp of its meaning.

I was told 60 people in attendance in the lobby were called to come down and greet the senator, but they couldn’t have access to the discussion.

Then came the announcement In The Argus News Leader of Sioux Falls on Saturday, August 9th that there would be no debates at all. I covered this in my diary of the same day South Dakota Senate race is Getting Interesting

Here is the link to the original news story:Johnson Reverses Course on Debates

In this article, Senator Johnson announces:

After initially vowing to participate in political debates, Sen. Tim Johnson on Friday said he would not debate Republican challenger Joel Dykstra.

This occurred three days after the Farm Bill Forum where four people, of the 60 “invited”, were allowed into a closed door discussion with Senator Johnson.

Then came today’s news story in the Rapid City Journal where Tim Johnson’s campaign is engaged in a little “nuance” and clarification of their original statement. Here is the link to the news story: Senator Tim Johnson says “No” to Debates

In this news story dated today, Sunday August 10th, the news story reads:

SIOUX FALLS — Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson says he won’t take part in “traditional political debates” during his 2008 re-election campaign.

This means that he has backed up some and is willing to debate, but not in a traditional debate. However, after the newspapers getting a deluge of comments that were not positive to him, it may be understandable to have him back up. However, did he back up?

Here is an example of a comment that is indicative of the general tone of all the other comments:

” I am not sure what to think here. If Tim is unable to debate his challenger, how on earth can he successfully argue pro/con legislation in the Senate? Even though I believe he has done a good job for SD in the past, we need someone who can stand up and fight for us South Dakotans! I doubt he wants to be re-elected with a sympathy vote so I think he should be willing to debate! Let the voters decide. “

However, The Argus News Leader, which is notoriously left leaning. This news paper was totally in the bag for Tom Daschle in his run against John Thune. It ran a news story today that says there will be no debates at all. I found this story very interesting. Especially it is the only South Dakota News paper that Tim Johnson’s campaign manger spoke too.

Here is the link to the news story I am referencing here:Johnson’s Decision puts the Burden on Dykstra

Now in my original post about this issue that I linked to above, I speculated that this is just what the Johnson campaign team wanted to do to Dystra.

Sen. Tim Johnson plans to have an active campaign this year, despite his decision not to face opponent Joel Dykstra in any debates, Johnson’s campaign director Steve Jarding says.

Jarding says Johnson will not rely on surrogates to make the case for him with voters. Instead, he “will be crisscrossing the state, meeting groups of constituents, holding roundtables,” starting this week when he returns from a personal trip.

It might be effective. With no opportunity for voters to see the two candidates side by side addressing the issues, many say Dykstra stands to lose the most.

This is exactly what the Johnson camp is banking on as a result of this issue. However, Jarding is describing Johnson “crisscrossing the state” to make his case is still over shadowed by the letter to the editor in Aberdeen where those meetings are by invite only and closed to all except those who they want to let in. Then you add in no “traditional debates”, which means no debates and you have a heavily insulated Democrat candidate for reelection who is not allowing the public to see him or speak to him.

It is a campaign of canned older pictures of the candidate in commercials, pronouncements from the candidates office, and a “trust me – vote for me, even though I won’t speak to you” campaign.

The polls from a month ago showed Johnson with a 60% to 35% lead. However, as we have seen in the national presidential polls, people have only just now started to pay attention. Can Johnson get reelected with a sheltered and hidden from view campaign strategy?

I will keep everyone posted.