U.S. House candidates adding campaign staffDavid Benson, a Brandon native and Augustana College graduate, has worked on statewide campaigns in South Dakota, Minnesota, Ohio and Montana. He will lead the campaign of Democrat Matt Varilek.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A political veteran who has worked on races in South Dakota and other Midwest states has been hired as the campaign manager for a U.S. House candidate.
David Benson will guide the campaign of Democratic candidate Matt Varilek, who is seeking his party’s nomination to run against Rep. Kristi Noem, a first-term Republican from Castlewood.
Benson, a Brandon native and Augustana College graduate, has worked on statewide campaigns in South Dakota, Minnesota, Ohio and Montana.
“He is a great fit for my campaign,” Varilek said. “His South Dakota roots mean that he understands the values of the people of our great state, and his political experience will help keep our campaign moving in the right direction.”
Varilek has also named Paul Rann as the campaign’s finance assistant and said Kelly Wismer will serve as a volunteer coordinator. Like Benson, both are South Dakota natives, Rann from Lennox and Wismer from Britton. Rann, who tours the state with Varilek, is a recent graduate of the University of South Dakota while Wismer is a USD senior.
Benson said Varilek is gaining a lot of supporters.
“In regards to volunteers, I don’t have a hard number at this time but I can say the sign-ups at events and online has been incredibly strong since Matt announced in December,” he said.
Benson said his love of politics developed early in life.
“I worked on a number of races here in the state during high school (Brandon Valley) and college (Augustana),” he said in an e-mail to The Daily Republic. “After working on the 2004 Daschle campaign, I moved to Minnesota and worked for Al Franken during his 2008 Senate campaign and the recount/lawsuit that soon followed.
“During this time, I served as the campaign co-manager until the DFL endorsement and then deputy campaign manager,” he said.
“Following the 2008 cycle, I served as executive director for the Montana Democratic Party.”
Benson said the campaign is, in his view, a clear choice for voters.
“If South Dakotans are looking for a representative that is willing to work across party lines, find real solutions to problems facing the country and side with middle class families, they will find that in Matt Varilek,” he said. “I feel South Dakotans will respond favorably to that approach due to their frustration with a dysfunctional Congress led by Noem and her fellow tea party members.”
Meanwhile, Varilek’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth, said he has also added some help.
“I have one part-time person working with me,” Barth said. “I have been looking for another employee out west but have not made the connection with the right person to this point.” He said he is trying to keep from spending much money in the early days of the campaign. “My money is going toward things other than salaries,” Barth said.
“I bet Noem and Varilek are burning through their cash faster than me.”
He said he has volunteers working for him in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen, Mitchell, Huron, Vermillion, Brookings and smaller communities like Elk Point.
Meanwhile, Noem is just starting to gear up her campaign, according to Josh Shields, who is in his final days as her official spokesman. Shields also volunteered his time as her campaign contact for the media before announcing his departure, which will occur Friday as he takes a new job in Rapid City. Shields said he did not use government equipment such as phones or computers to work for the campaign.
Jordan Stoick, who is Noem’s chief of staff, will serve as the spokesman for her office and her campaign, he said Wednesday. Two people will soon be hired for those positions, he said. Shields said there is just one employee on the campaign staff and she has been working since Noem won the 2010 House race.
“Representative Noem has a finance director who is full-time on the campaign staff,” Shields said. Jessica Arend, of Sioux Falls, is the sole full-time campaign employee right now, he said, but more will be added. Arend worked in the 2002 Republican team campaign in South Dakota, so she is familiar with a winning race, Shields said. Noem has more than $1.3 million in campaign contributions, according to an announcement from her campaign earlier this year.
She raised and spent more than $2.2 million in 2010, out-raising incumbent Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, whom she defeated.
Shields said his boss will turn her attention to the campaign in time, but right now, she has bigger fish to fry.
“Representative Noem is mainly focused on her official duties at this point,” he said. “There will be a point that campaigning starts in earnest.”
Shields said he will not serve as Noem’s campaign manager, which he did during the 2010 general election race after working for another Republican candidate in the 2010 GOP primary. Noem is preparing for the campaign but isn’t ready to open offices or hire staff yet, he said. “She and her staff are putting together a game plan,” Shields said.
Stephanie Strong, the Rapid City woman who has said she will challenge Noem for the GOP nomination, said she has no staff yet. Strong said she is working on collecting the 1,955 signatures needed to place her name on the June 5 primary ballot. Once that is accomplished, she said, she will look at putting together a campaign team. Strong was in Sioux Falls last weekend meeting with local tea party representatives. She has met with both Rapid City tea party groups previously. Strong said she is seeking endorsements from those groups for her race.