Just when I've decided to suspend my support for Republican Mike Rounds and his campaign for our SD Senate seat comes some news. His likely Democratic opponent Rick Weiland has suddenly inserted Elizabeth Warren into the race. More on that in a bit, but first off, I've always liked Rick, supported him with some money when he was running for Congress in the '90s, had a meet-and-greet for him at the house back then, generally found him to be passionate and articulate--and still do. Because I've decided to put my support for the lavishly financed Rounds on hold until we get some definitive answers about his role--or lack thereof--in the Slaughterhouse EB-5 fiasco that materialized during his tenure as Governor, I've been turning my attention to Weiland again. Weiland is running the grass-rootsiest of campaigns, probably hamstrung by tight finances, going around the state of South Dakota and meeting lots of individuals. You gotta admire the spunk and the energy, which speak well of Rick's populist nature. Polls that I've seen generally show Weiland behind by mid- to upper-single digits, which is roughly the same as the Republican to Democrat registration edge in South Dakota.
Plain arithmetic makes it clear that for Weiland to win this race he has to woo a substantial number of Republicans over to his side. How he expects to do that by identifying with Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is mystifying, to say the least. There's an informally designated "Elizabeth Warren Wing" in the Democratic Party, it's adherents, including Rick Weiland, generally regarded as unabashedly liberal. Being unabashedly liberal is okay, but being irredeemably glib, as Elizabeth Warren was when she declared in 2011 that successful businesses aren't the creation of their owners, a line later condensed by Barack Obama into the famous "if you have a business--you didn't build that" statement in his 2012 campaign, is not the stuff of political acumen when running for office in a state like South Dakota. Those who defend Warren's statement as accurate and reasonable when taken in context--she added that businesses succeed because of the government services and infrastructure that make them possible to exist--seem to be missing a crucial point: those businesses not only pay a hefty chunk of dough to support the government, they're the ones that create the economic foundation that makes it possible for a society to exist in the first place. But context isn't much of a fallback when defending this statement politically. Sound bytes drive the political process these days, and I'm certain that Warren's sound byte will be turned against Weiland with much gusto and frequency if he intends to go around calling himself an Elizabeth Warren Democrat.
South Dakota is a state with a long-standing economic superstructure supported by thousands of small businesses and farms, most of them family operations. These are families that take a lot of justifiable pride in having the moxie and smarts to make their businesses succeed, probably all of them, to a one, pointing to many episodes in their lives when they had to sacrifice not just luxuries, but necessities, in order to keep their enterprises afloat. You can imagine how they react by being told that they didn't build their businesses. There's no amount of parsing, explaining, contextualizing or hedging the impact of that simple and self esteem-rattling statement of Warren's. Rick needs to keep this lady at arm's length if he expects to get a sympathetic hearing from the many Republicans he'll need to win this election.