Politics, viral videos and corn dogs

Jeff Barth would be proud.

The Democratic candidate for Congress gained a lot of attention — but not that many votes — with a compelling, bizarre and memorable campaign video that “went viral” this spring.

Now, the Democrat who defeated him in a landslide in the June primary, Matt Varilek, is using a video intended to attack him, made by the South Dakota Republican Party, as a weapon. Varilek aims to mock his opponent, Rep. Kristi Noem, for trying to use this against him. It too has “gone viral,” which despite its ominous sound is a very good thing indeed for videos.

The GOP video, which runs more than 2 minutes, paints Varilek as a guy who studied overseas, speaks at UN gatherings and — horrors! — drinks beer and eats corn dogs! Those last two caught people’s ear, and the video was posted by several liberal websites, who also pointed out that it seemed as if Noem and her backers were condemning Varilek for seeking a quality education.

As he noted in a stop at our office, he did attend school in Scotland and England, but in part on a Rotary scholarship. Varilek said it’s almost comical that he is being painted as an outsider when he was just a South Dakota guy trying to get a good education.

The video, which both Varilek and Noem are urging people to watch, is getting media attention in South Dakota and across the nation. The AP did a story on it Monday.

Not to be topped, Noem’s campaign just released a new Halloween-themed video that seeks to mock Varilek while also painting him as a tax-and-spend liberal.

“Matt Varilek’s entire campaign has been a trick on South Dakota families and a treat for Washington liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama,” said Tom Erickson, Noem’s campaign manager. “On the campaign trail, Matt Varilek repeats false attacks and wild exaggerations instead of talking about how he supports the Obama-Pelosi agenda that would tax small businesses and middle class families as well as rob Medicare to pay for ObamaCare.”

It’s all pretty silly, but it has caught some people’s ears and eyes. I still think the best, and funniest, one of the bunch is Barth’s, and despite it he finished a poor second in the Democratic Party June primary.

Maybe if he had added a corn dog or two …

Matt Varilek knew what he was saying

In the past two weeks or so, Matt Varilek had one main thing to say: He could defeat Kristi Noem.

In fact, when he talked politics, and he and I did several times, he didn’t want to talk much about Jeff Barth. Varilek was focused on the general election, on Noem, on winning South Dakota’s lone seat in Congress.

He would say he respected Barth and wasn’t looking past him and yadda yadda yadda … but then he would make another point about why he could defeat Noem.

On Election Night, all the media people like me who had given Barth a chance with his stance for gay marriage and his unique, weird, funny video, were proven wrong. This wasn’t a race.

Varilek won in a walk. He could move past Barth, and focus on his goal from the start: Taking on Kristi Noem.

He goes there as the party’s clear choice, with the backing of Johnson, Daschle and McGovern, and with his first race for office under his belt. He’s an underdog, but polls have shown Noem and other incumbents are vulnerable this year.

And in 2010, it was widely asserted that another South Dakota congresswoman was a big favorite for another term. Ask Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, private citizen, how that worked out.

As far as Barth, he’s still a Minnehaha County commissioner and his statewide name recognition just skyrocketed. Does he have another run in him this year — the Democrats need another PUC candidate — or in the future?

And he still made the funniest campaign video in SD history. SD Republicans liked it, and tried to pump up his chances with state and national media. They felt Barth was an easier guy to beat in the fall.

Instead, they get Varilek, who is dead serious about winning.

Thune appears in new Romney ad

Mitt Romney has started to mention a few people as possible running mates.

Of course, that’s a tad premature, since a lot of Republicans seem to favor ABR — Anyone But Romney — for the 2012 GOP nomination. But Romney has named a few people as the type of VP candidate he’d want to run with next year.

Sen. John Thune’s name has appeared, as it did in 2008 when Sen. John McCain was the Republican candidate. Thune is playing it now like he did then: He said it’s nice to be considered but he doubts he will be selected.

Still, it’s interesting than in his new TV spot in Iowa, Romney, the former governor of  Massachusetts making his second bid for the presidency, features only one other politician: John Thune. The South Dakota senator is shown standing with Romney at an earlier appearance when Thune endorsed him for president.

Here’s a link to a blog on it and the ad itself.

Thune made appearances in Iowa, our neighboring state, when he was pondering a run for the White House, He’s a Midwestern guy with strong coservative credentials and experience in ag issues, which makes him a good match for Romney in Iowa — and maybe on the ticket.

A Huffington Post columnist also thinks Thune is a logical choice.

If Romney can persuade Republicans to nominate him, that is.

Dollars and political sense

A few months ago, Kristi Noem was a businesswoman/farmer from the small Hamlin County town of Castlewood who also served part-time in the South Dakota Legislature.

Now she’s the Republican nominee for the state’s sole U.S. House seat and has led incumbent Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in in two straight phone surveys, although her lead was rduced in the last one. Noem has also raised more money than the Democratic congresswoman in the most recent reporting period, which coincides with her win in the GOP primary, followed by a rush of state media attention.

Herseth Sandlin still has many more dollars in the bank, or did a few days ago, anyway. But she started way ahead. Noem has been very successful raising money since early this year, however, and outraised her two GOP opponents in the primary.

From the AP: "Noem reported raising $332,463 from May 20 through June 30. Her campaign spent $82,743 and wound up with $291,677 on hand at the end of the period.

Herseth Sandlin reported raising $297,168 during the period. The Democratic congresswoman spent $37,907 and ended up with $706,822 on hand."

SHS has started the air war with a warm and fuzzy TV spot showing her in the Black Hills with her husband and son. She has also agreed to debate Noem in Mitchell Aug. 28.

After cakewalks in 2006 and 2008, Herseth Sandlin is in a real battle. Noem, who is headed to Washington, D.C., to raise even more cash, looks like a viable opponent. This just keeps getting more interesting.

We’ll keep following the money, as well as the issues, candidates and the state’s political climate.


Kristi Noem on the campaign trail

Republican U.S. House candidate Kristi Noem stopped at The Daily Republic Tuesday for a pair of interviews, both a sit-down with newspaper staff and a video interview on how the campaign is going.

Although Noem is a newcomer to state politics, she’s off to a fast start with an upset win in the Republican House primary and, according to Rasmussen Reports, a healthy lead over Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the Democratic incumbent.

What is the secret to her success?