I wish the South Dakota Democratic Party hadn't made such a big splash over Susan Wismer's announcement that she would seek the party's nomination for Governor. I mean last January's rollout is so loaded with inner circle fanfare that it comes off like a virtual endorsement. Dem Party Chair Deb Knecht's gushingly enthusiastic prose style reads more like a beatification than the announcement it's supposed to be. And just to allay any doubts about where Knecht's support is directed, her concluding pro forma mention of Joe Lowe as the other candidate for the nomination is terse, short, and obligatory in tone. Along with the fact that SD Dems didn't give Joe Lowe any such treatment when he announced his candidacy last Fall, this so-called announcement makes a travesty of the notion that political parties, before primaries, should be neutral when it comes to showing preferences.
I've never met Wismer, I've met Lowe once. I understand the former to be competent, thorough, and familiar enough with the workings of SD state government after serving in the state's legislature for three terms. I also understand that a bundle of charisma she is not, though I'm depending on hearsay for that one. If it's true, and I'm confident that it is, I think SD Dems are making a big mistake if they overlook Joe Lowe. Wismer's background has given her lots of east river connections with what little "establishment" that the Democratic Party has in South Dakota, but that's not much of a reason to brush off Lowe.
It will take a lot more than being an establishment candidate for a Dem to knock off incumbent Dennis Daugaard in the Fall. If I were a Dem I'd be concerned that Wismer just doesn't have the muscular persona (think Hillary, think Elizabeth Warren, think Debbie Stabenow, you get the picture) that it will take to convince voters that fundamental changes have to occur in South Dakota's political landscape.
I think the successful candidate can define Daugaard as the caretaker of the past, using the same old initiatives to achieve the same old status quo for South Dakota. To accomplish that, a protean political effort is the task at hand, and I doubt that Susan Wismer--fine a person as I'm sure she is--will be up to it.
But will Joe Lowe? I haven't got a clue, honestly, but if political past is political prologue, I'd say he has a much better shot at it than Wismer. Re-locating to South Dakota back in the 1990s, Lowe honed his political skills in Southern California, taking over in the early '90s as Mayor of Mission Viejo in Orange County, where the politics are vicious and no prisoners are taken--I lived there myself until I was in my thirties and can still remember it as the land of dirty political tricks ("Tricky Dick" Nixon was a product of that tradition--you get the idea). If Lowe has retained the toughness that it took to be a winner a couple of decades ago, he'll match up just fine with Daugaard on any stage. Does all this mean I'm supporting Lowe for Governor? No way. I'm not supporting anybody right now. What I am supporting is a vigorous gubernatorial contest that will be a fight over the future of South Dakota--and I'm pretty sure that Joe Lowe is the Dem that can best come out punching. Despite their party leadership's none-too-subtle favoritism toward Susan Wismer, South Dakota Dems really should be giving Joe Lowe a hard look before they make their decisions at the primary.