In the 2010 election for three seats on the Minnehaha County Commission, the third-place finisher and top Democrat was Jeff Barth. He placed about 4,800 votes behind the top candidate, Republican Cindy Heiberger, and about 3,000 votes behind the No. 2 finisher, Republican Gerald Beninga, and less than 700 votes ahead of the fourth-place candidate, Republican Tim Nicolai. For the 2010 general election the voter registratio in Minnehaha County was 44,451 Republicans; 41,679 Democrats; 19,142 independents; and smatterings of about 500 others. In the U.S. House of Representatives election the incumbent Democrat, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, received 49.8 percent of the votes in Minnehaha County, while Republican challenger Kristi Noem received 44.5 percent and independent B. Thomas Marking took 5.7 percent. Statewide, Noem won with 48.1 percent while Herseth Sandlin drew 45.9 percent and Marking got a hair under 5 percent.
That was the lay of the land two years ago. Now Jeff Barth is using his seat on the county commission of South Dakota’s most populous county as a springboard for his candidacy to challenge Noem for the U.S. House seat this fall. He is competing against Matt Varilek, an aide to Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, for the Democratic nomination in the primary election next Tuesday. Barth’s video has given him a shot of energy. His shirt untucked, mountain music playing as the soundtrack, he rambles through a woods and tells the short version of a life story that contrasts with the visual and audio image. It’s an effective technique. I don’t recall the last time that a state chess champion was in position to be a political party’s nominee for the top race on the South Dakota ticket in a statewide election. That he’s now also running paid advertising further helps his cause.
On the other side, the Varilek candidacy might be the canary in the coal mine two years ahead of the U.S. Senate election in which the Johnson seat will be up.