HURON – South Dakota Democrats can only successfully rebuild and revitalize their political party if they take a page out of George McGovern’s 1953 playbook and emphasize voter registration and a strong get-out-the-vote effort, one of six candidates for chair of the state party said Thursday.
John Claussen of Sioux Falls describes the South Dakota Democratic Party as one that in recent years has “drifted into a malaise … which cannot be corrected by staying the course.
“It’s a story, in my opinion, of a political party that appears to be dependent on a rock star strategy where we throw anything at the wall hoping something will stick,” he said.
Claussen, 58, has been following the Democratic Party and its leaders since he was a young boy. He’s now semi-retired after a long career in retail and as a banker and insurance agent.
Success for Democrats will come when they do the math and not just offer a message to voters, he said at the District 22 Democratic Forum.
In the post-McGovern era, he criticizes the party as being one that has become too sanitized, stale and cautious.
In his 15-point strategic plan for 2030, he said while a revitalized party won’t be realized overnight, he thinks Democrats must look beyond next year’s election cycle to a crucial 2022 vote.
Democrats are excited about the prospect of defeating President Trump, taking back the Senate and holding on to the House in 2020, he said.
“These are all great things. But if you have a Democratic president, you have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House, what happens in 2022 in red South Dakota?” Claussen said.
In that cycle, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and a predominately Republican Legislature will be up for re-election.
Claussen believes the party must establish a more adequate message of what Democratic legislators are trying to accomplish in Pierre. It must recognize the importance of a full slate of candidates and that no Republican personality is too great to be challenged, pointing to the lack of a candidate against Thune in 2010.
Races should be targeted in a more proactive manner, not merely relying on a matching funds program, he said.
Delegates to the state convention should select their constitutional candidates last rather than first “so that democracy can breathe,” he said.
He wants to deputize 100 Democrats throughout the state – about three per legislative district – with the goal of registering 50,000 new Democrats by 2024. That’s less than 9 per deputy per month.
“And even if you only achieve 20 percent of that goal, that’ll stop the bleeding of the loss of Democrat members in the state,” Claussen said.
Sixty-six years ago, when future congressman, senator and presidential candidate McGovern crisscrossed the state in his quest to re-establish the party as a viable force in South Dakota politics, no Democrat held a statewide office and all but two of the 110-member Legislature were Republican.
Today, there are no Democrats holding constitutional offices and only 16 serve as legislators.
“It’s time we realize as Democrats it’s not really 2019, rather it’s 1953 and we must begin again to rebuild the party,” Claussen said.