Tim Johnson’s advice: Stay in the middle

Sen. Tim Johnson said he isn’t in the business of helping the Republican Party, but he did offer a few thoughts about its tough Election Night, nationally that is.

“The problem with the Republicans was their primary,” Johnson, a moderate Democrat who has thrived in bright red South Dakota, said after a Tuesday meeting with the South Dakota Farmers Union, and some farmers, ranchers and others in the ag industry.

Politics popped up after the farm bill discussion, and Johnson said he feels the GOP was forced too far to the right in the spring, and Mitt Romney ended up viewed as a right winger by enough voters to doom his chances.

“I have spent a lifetime going to the middle and I think the extremes don’t make any sense at all,” he said. “That’s my opinion.”

Johnson said he knows South Dakota Democrats had another bad year, with losses in all statewide races, and another drubbing in legislative races. “We’ll be back,” he said with a sunny smile.

He said he hopes his former staffer Matt Varilek, who lost a bid for the state’s sole House seat, and Matt McGovern, who was beaten in a bid for a PUC seat, run for office again. Johnson said he wasn’t sure if Varilek would come back to work for him.

“Give him time,” he said. “He deserves the rest.”

Johnson passed on the question when he would announce his plans for 2014. Will he seek a fourth term in the Senate, or retired unbeaten in nearly 40 years in elective office? He didn’t give me an exclusive on that.

“I’m not done with the lame-duck session yet,” Johnson said. “There’s plenty of time. Sometime next year.”

The upside of fewer ads on TV

It hit me this weekend: We are not being overwhelmed by campaign ads this fall.

President Obama and Mitt Romney are bombarding the airwaves with TV spots in many states with larger populations and where the decision is up for grabs. That’s not the case in South Dakota, which has been consistently Republican since 1968.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will try here. We’re like an easy opponent at a homecoming football game. The decision is being taken for granted. We will go reliably red.

The lack of a contested presidential race in good ol’ S.D. disappoints political junkies and the media, which loves a horse race to root on. But it’s a blessing for the TV-viewing public, which can sit back and enjoy its movies, shows and games without hearing from Barack and Mitt.

We were supposed to get a bit of a break in our congressional race. Democrat Matt Varilek reportedly pulled his ads from the airwaves this week, but I just saw one during the KELO 6 p.m. news Monday night.

Rep. Kristi Noem and the South Dakota Republican Party thought the enemy had surrendered the air to them, so they celebrated for a day or two.

Noem has a new ad on the air and more to come. She has a large edge in money on Varilek, so we won’t be home-free in TV for the closing days of the race. Several times a day, Noem will continue to ride horses, appear with her adorable kids and show frustration with those dang government boneheads in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the ever-earnest Varilek will show up in both a dark suit and tie, looking leader-like, and his open-collared shirt, when he seeks the regular guy look while tossing horseshoes and ducking cattle and their droppings.

We’re not ad-free, but hey, it could be worse. We could be Ohio.

Republicans open larger leads in SD races, says poll

Republicans have significant leads in three races in South Dakota, according to a survey released by a Sioux Falls polling firm Friday.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney leads President Barack Obama 53.9 to 38.7 percent with 7.4 percent undecided, according to a release from Nielson Brothers Polling. Romney’s lead has increased since NBP’s July survey in which he led by 6 percent.

Republicans have carried South Dakota in every presidential race since 1968. In 2008, Republican candidate Sen. John McCain defeated Obama 53-45, with three other candidates taking the remaining 2 percent. South Dakota, as a traditionally Republican state with just three electoral votes, has not been a point of contention for the two major parties, neither of whom has campaigned here.

In the race for South Dakota’s sole House seat, Republican incumbent Kristi Noem opened a nearly 9 percent lead over her Democratic challenger, Matt Varilek. Noem leads 50.8 to 42.0 percent compared to her 47.4 to 45.6 percent advantage in July, according to NBP.

Noem, a freshman from Castlewood, defeated then-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat, 48-46, with third-party candidate B. Thomas Marking garnering 6 percent.

In the race for one of two Public Utilities Commission seats, incumbent Republican Kristie Fiegen now leads Democrat Matt McGovern 47.0 percent to 36.5 percent with 16.5 percent undecided. Libertarian candidate Russ Clarke was not listed as having any support in the survey. In NBP’s July survey, Fiegen led by two points.

NBP did not poll on the other PUC race between incumbent Chris Nelson, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Nick Nemec.

Both Fiegen and Nelson were appointed to the PUC in 2011. Fiegen is seeking a full six-year term in her race with McGovern and Clarke, while Nelson and Nemec are vying for a four-year term.

“Through the national party conventions, South Dakota Republicans widened their leads in the major races,” Paul Nielson, president of Nielson Brothers Polling said. “Republican voters are now supporting their candidates more than the Democrats are supporting theirs. We saw a small swing back toward Democrats during their convention, but overall South Dakota Republican candidates appear to be consolidating their support and have added to their leads.”

Respondents were also asked to evaluate Obama’s job performance. Overall, 42.9 percent approve, with 25.8 percent saying they “strongly approve” and 17.1 percent saying they “somewhat approve.” Of the 57.1 percent who disapprove, 45.0 percent say they “strongly disapprove.”

The July NBP survey showed Obama’s approval rating to be at 45 percent.

The NBP survey shows Noem’s job approval to be 54.7 percent, with 28.6 percent saying they “somewhat approve” and 26.1 percent “strongly approve.” On the other hand, 25.7 percent of respondents say they “strongly disapprove” and 19.7 percent “somewhat disapprove.” NBP did not ask this question in its July poll.

NBP also asked whether respondents supported the Republican or Democratic state Senate candidate in their legislative district and 46.4 percent support the Republican candidate, 33.3 percent support the Democrat, while 20.4 percent remain undecided.

By comparison, in NBP’s July survey, 44.2 percent of likely voters chose the Republican, 34.8 percent chose the Democrat, and 21.1 percent were undecided.

NBP surveyed a random selection of likely South Dakota voters Aug. 29 through Sept. 6. The question on the presidential race drew 512 responses, with a 4.33 percent margin of error. The question on the US House race drew 509 responses, with a 4.34 percent margin of error. The question on the PUC race between Fiegen and McGovern drew 503 responses with a 4.37 percent margin of error.

Nielson Brothers Polling will release more findings from the survey, including questions on Initiated Measure 15 and economic confidence.

Romney picks Ryan

Mitt Romney is tired of letting the Olympics and Barack Obama set the news. He is breaking some news and making headlines early Saturday.

Romney will announce his running mate in a few hours. All signs point to Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the conservative favorite and the chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Since I spoke with John Thune today as he headed to Murdo to visit his father and some friends, it’s safe to say the South Dakota senator didn’t get it.

Thune said Romney should make a “bold” selection. Is that Ryan, who wants to alter the Medicare process, because, he says, he wants to save it from going broke?

He also promises to work toward a balanced budget. He’s hot, he’s outspoken and he’s a newsmaker. The headlines will be all GOP for a few days, so Romney has accomplished that.

But Ryan is also a lightning rod. The Democrats will come at him for his unabashed conservative, new GOP views. Ryan is well-spoken, so it should be interesting to watch.

So now we now the teams: Romney-Ryan vs. Obama-Biden. On to the conventions.

Thune is talking with the Romney team

Sen. John Thune keeps saying he expects to be a senator in 2013.

However …

Thune said Monday that he is talking with Romney’s campaign team. He told The Hill that he is in contact with the people who are running the show.

“In an interview with The Hill, Thune acknowledged he’s been to Boston to meet Romney’s senior advisers and has met Beth Myers, who is leading the search for the vice presidential nominee.

“ ‘I met her but it wasn’t a meeting about what you think it’s about,’ he said.”

Hmmm. So they wanted to ask him about what exactly?

Thune didn’t say he is formally being vetted, but it appears he is still on the list. It figures, since he is a good fit.

Thune is a conservative darling, a supporter of Romney since last year and a talented politician and campaigner. There is little doubt he would be a solid choice, and popular with the right.

Romney needs to energize the GOP base to win in November and Thune would help with that. Will he join the ticket?

Thune said he would be willing to serve as a feisty attack dog in the campaign, the typical role of a VP candidate.

“I’m not somebody whose disposition and temperament is hostile. But once somebody throws the first punch, I’m all in,” he told The Hill.

Here’s the stories out today: