Going all Dave Kranz on Marty Jackley, the Dale Bartscher hiring and the campaign battle for evangelicals
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Sitting in my pickup in the parking lot of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral late yesterday afternoon, I felt a bit like Dave Kranz — scribbling away on the back of the printout of a scriptural passage I read in Mass last week.
But this wasn’t scripture. I was taking news notes, Kranz style.
Many of you might remember Kranz, who was for many years the most read-and-talked-about political observer in South Dakota. He was -- no, he is -- also a kind man with an enduring love for our state and its people.
He has long been my friend, too, although these days his early onset dementia limits our ability to celebrate that friendship.
David’s note-taking style — on cafe napkins, matchbook covers, the backs of business cards, the back of his hands, the front of his forearms, McDonald’s paper bags (been there, done that) — is legendary.
And I was suddenly going all Kranz during the Jackley interview, as I sat in my pickup near the cathedral’s northwest door, where a notice informed me that the 5:30 Mass I had hustled to attend had been canceled.
So the unscheduled phone interview continued, as I filled up the printout sheet and started scribbling in the margins of a Black Hills Sportsmen brochure hastily retrieved from the floor of the back seat.
That’s how Kranz did it. Always on the job. Always open to an interview. Often not fully prepared for note-taking by the possession of certain essentials, like a notebook.
In my defense, I called Jackley during the drive over to the cathedral figuring I’d just leave a voicemail. Jackley is exceptionally responsive, but he’s also a busy guy. So catching him by call-backs is typical.
He surprised me by answering his cell phone on the second or third ring.
“Are you calling about going fishing?” he said.
That’s a question of biblical importance, of course. But in this instance, I was fishing not for men but for insight into a report on a particular man that I’d just heard on public radio.
“Dale Bartscher?” I said. “You hired Dale Bartscher for your campaign?”
Indeed, Jackley confirmed that the former executive director of the politically conservative, faith-based Family Heritage Alliance had joined the attorney general’s campaign for governor as its political director. Which surprised me a bit, because I didn’t expect Bartscher to take a side on the GOP primary between Jackley and the other heavy hitter in the race, fourth-term Congresswoman Kristi Noem.
Also, I wasn’t aware that the gentle giant among South Dakota evangelicals was considered a hot hire for a statewide candidate race, much less the one for the governor’s chair.
Bartscher does have statewide issues-campaign experience, however, and experience as a lobbyist in the state Legislature. And he knows how to organize on a grassroots level, especially among people who live their lives somewhere on the religious right.
“He’s going to be a great asset for the campaign,” Jackley said. “He’s so upbeat and positive, and he has a lot of experience and great perspectives.”
Here’s a couple of other reactions to the Bartscher hire, stolen from my own Facebook page:
Doug Wiken, Winner area Democrat and blogger:
“Jackley is not stupid, but he seems to put his engineering and science background in a buried mental bucket when he starts on his partisan humbug. He really could be a much better human and politician and a lot more useful.”
Fred Deutsch, former Republican member of the South Dakota House and president of SD Right to Life:
“It's a brilliant move. I don't think of it as going after hard-righters but perhaps more accurately going after evangelical Christian voters that may have been more aligned with Kristi.”
And Deutsch again, on Bartscher’s lack of statewide candidate-campaign experience:
“I would submit to you there is not much difference between strategy to encourage votes for a bill and votes for a candidate.”
Maybe. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I’d still argue that Jason Glodt and utility players to be named later are likely to be handling most of the campaign’s heavy lifting. But Jackley is right about Bartscher’s upbeat attitude and skills in working with people. He is a pleasant, likable guy, whether or not you agree with him on key social issues.
Jackley rejects my “trending hard right” argument, saying that he’ll have a Reagan-like big-tent approach to staffing, with all Republican perspectives represented. But Bartscher’s hiring clearly continues Jackley’s strategy to lock up a good share of the conservative base as early in the campaign as he can.
Bartscher’s role there will be especially important — as Fred Deutsch points out above — on the evangelical-Christian side of things. Bartscher’s deep connections and solid credentials in the evangelical community in South Dakota are well-earned pluses that could magnify for Jackley in the primary election.
And it’s particularly interesting that he is actually joining the Jackley campaign, since Noem had worked to make strong connections with that same evangelical community, and with Bartscher himself.
On one issue in particular, human trafficking, Bartscher worked closely with the state’s Congressional delegation, including Noem. And she made human trafficking a prominent point of focus.
But Bartscher also worked with Jackley, whose duties in fighting human trafficking have included prosecuting those who traffic in human beings, or have intentions of doing so. So this hiring is a bit of a coup for the Jackley campaign.
It won’t hurt in fundraising, either. There’s money in the evangelical community, and not just in the bank account of Rapid City furniture mogul Bob Fischer. This connection helps Jackley compete with Noem and her proven ability to raise bunches of campaign money, a substantial amount of which landed first in her U.S. House fund, to be transferred to her state campaign fund.
That’s a big challenge for Jackley, who went into the race as a probable and certainly a perceived underdog. But he is organizing well across the state, and raising money effectively, too. A recent $500-a-plate fundraiser in Rapid City is likely to net him around $100,000. And he’ll probably do at least that well soon in a similar event in Sioux Falls.
Here in Rapid City, most of the definable energy seems to be toward Jackley right now. But Noem hasn’t been as noticeably active, beyond normal press releases and the free campaign space incumbents get simply by doing their jobs, astutely.
But she doesn’t have to hustle like Jackley does, not yet at least. She’s the sitting congresswoman with a bit of a profile in D.C., and that’s worth out-of-state bucks that Jackley can’t attract.
He’ll be promoting his in-state fundraising as well as his in-state campaign team, now including Bartscher. And there’s Glodt, of course, who is a South Dakota guy who has been on the inside of Republican politics for years. I’m trying not to hold his role in winning voter approval last year for Marsy’s Law against him. But that’s another story, perhaps for a future column.
Noem, meanwhile, earlier this year hired Justin Brasell as her campaign manager. The Mississipi native has a growing profile in the campaign game, having worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee and campaigns for Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tom Cotton.
Oh yeah, he was also campaign manager for South Dakota Sen. John Thune in his 2010 reelection bid, and "managed" Thune to a 100-percent vote total. OK, OK, so there was nobody else on the ballot. Still, 100 percent. Pretty impressive.
I was just getting to know Brasell during that 2010 campaign cycle when it became pretty clear that Thune would be a race of one. After that, there wasn’t much reason to chat. So I barely know him.
But I’ll give him a call before long, just to see how things are going on the Noem side of the campaign. Heck, I might even scrounge up a notebook first.