Mayor Mike Huether’s Pass Could Signal End to Political Ambition [OPINION]
Mayor Mike Huether’s announcement Thursday that he won’t run for the open U.S. House seat in 2018 scratches one gig off the list of possible next steps.
It may also signal something greater: Maybe he’s done with politics altogether.
I realize that seems hard to believe.
Only Mayor Mike knows for sure – and maybe he doesn't – but looking at the landscape it seems a distinct possibility.
The two-term Sioux Falls mayor can’t run for his current job again.
There just aren’t that many potential political spots out there for someone with his ambition.
Let’s look at the most likely first, which is the governor’s race.
This is a serious uphill battle for Huether on a few counts.
First, he left the Democratic Party recently and became an independent. It’s not impossible for an independent to win, but it’s unlikely. Losing access to major party talent and fundraising capacity is a serious problem.
Even in South Dakota – where the Democrats are on life support – it still matters. If the national Dems think there’s a chance to knock somebody off, more resources would be available.
Now, it’s no secret that Huether can self-fund to a certain degree. He essentially paid for his first mayoral campaign in 2010. But that was a couple hundred thousand bones. Going statewide, particularly as an insurgent candidate, would require multiple millions.
Because of his connections, he might be able to raise a decent amount. Still, it’s a long way to go when you’ve bailed on your party. Can he pull some big money out of disgruntled Republicans? It’s possible, but it’s going to take serious work.
Second, he has no statewide organization. Popping up to Brookings or over to Mitchell a few times isn’t enough to find the foot soldiers needed for this effort. Remember, no party infrastructure.
Third, the calendar. If he really wants to be governor, he’s got to get moving. Independents have a higher threshold for signatures to get on the ballot in the first place. Republicans Kristi Noem and Marty Jackley, a couple of statewide campaign veterans, have already declared and are moving forward.
Noem in particular has the ability to raise money in significant chunks, given her connections within the national GOP and at home after four terms in Congress. Either way, the Republican nominee will be well known, well funded and well organized.
And they’ve already started.
Fourth, you need to build a team.
When he first ran for mayor, Huether hired Steve Hildebrand’s political consulting firm. Hildebrand, of course, has a storied history, working in Iowa for both Al Gore and Barack Obama, eventually rising to deputy national campaign director in the 2008 presidential campaign.
That relationship ended after Huether’s election and will not be repaired. Plus Steve has other dragons to slay and runs a downtown Sioux Falls restaurant and coffee shop full time.
So Huether will have to look elsewhere for quality organization, research and consulting. There are plenty of guns for hire outside the state. But finding someone with South Dakota roots and knowledge will be difficult outside the GOP.
Expecting some sort of grass roots surge of volunteers and passionate backers seems, let’s just say, unlikely in this scenario.
Fifth, he’s the mayor of Sioux Falls. The anti-Sioux Falls bias in statewide politics is becoming less a factor, in my opinion, but it’s still there.
Huether has the advantage of understanding the middle-class issues in the greater metro area, that’s not to be discounted. Plus, it needs to be said, he’s pretty good on the campaign trail. The man can work a parade or county fair, that’s for sure.
Also, he is originally from Yankton. Expect to hear that a lot if he ever does run.
All in all, governor seems like a long shot, but perhaps his best shot as an independent.
Now, the Senate.
Take all those reasons and multiply them by a factor of 10.
A governor’s race could be spirited.
The Senate is an outright, bare-knuckled, back-alley brawl.
Which brings us back to the original hypothesis. Maybe he’s just done.
Or maybe he really wants to be a state legislator?
We’ll discuss all the ramifications on The Patrick Lalley Show on Friday beginning at 3:00 PM. Join the conversation on Twitter @plalleyshow or on the KSOO Facebook page. Email me at Patrick@KSOO.com.