Dems Varilek, Barth gear up for closing days of House campaignA week from tonight, Jeff Barth and Matt Varilek should know which one of them will be the Democratic candidate for the state’s lone U.S. House seat. The winner of the June 5 primary will take on Republican Rep. Kristi Noem, who is in her first term.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A week from tonight, Jeff Barth and Matt Varilek should know which one of them will be the Democratic candidate for the state’s lone U.S. House seat. The winner of the June 5 primary will take on Republican Rep. Kristi Noem, who is in her first term.
The Democratic House campaign, which was criticized for its slow pace and minimal public profile, has picked up in the closing days.
The two Democrats have appeared on forums on South Dakota Public TV and on KELO-TV, and have held joint appearances in Sioux Falls and Brookings.
Varilek raised some eyebrows and angered some supporters when he announced he did not support same-sex marriage, instead backing civil unions.
Last week, Barth released a 5-minute video that gained national attention. The video, which he posted on YouTube and his campaign website, has drawn widespread praise for its blend of biography, political commentary and humor.
“I thought it would be successful, but I didn’t expect anything like this,” said Barth, who has been interviewed by national magazines and TV shows.
“I’m the most famous South Dakotan in the world for the last 72 hours,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve had calls from London and a guy in South Africa. It’s been unreal.”
Some of the calls also included offers of campaign donations, Barth said. While he received just $130 in the first day, since then he has collected about $1,000 per day in donations, he said.
Barth is launching TV commercials today, but they’re not as off-the-wall as his campaign video. He said he may edit that down and run a version of it on South Dakota TV.
Varilek’s campaign manager, David Benson, said they were reluctant to comment on strategy but that no TV commercials were scheduled.
Instead, Varilek said he will continue to travel across South Dakota in the last week of the race.
“We’re going to try to be in contact with as many South Dakota primary voters as possible,” he said. “I will do it by traveling, meeting with voters face-to-face, communicating with South Dakota voters in as many ways I can, organize volunteers, make calls and have them do so.”
Varilek said he hasn’t tracked how many miles he has put in while crossing the state in the past several months, but knows it’s a lot.
“I know I’m getting more oil changes than usual,” he said with a chuckle.
Varilek has out-raised Barth by more than a 5-1 ratio and has been endorsed by most prominent Democrats in the state, including Sen. Tim Johnson and former Sens. Tom Daschle and George McGovern.
He said he likes his chances on June 5.
“I feel great about it with the response we have had,” Varilek said.
He said Barth’s video has generated a lot of media, but he’s not sure if they will mean more votes on Election Day.
“It’s a quirky video and I think it captures my friend Jeff’s personality,” Varilek said. “As far as its impact, we will have to wait and see.”
He has been talking with a lot of voters about same-sex marriage — “Folks on all sides of the issue” — and said he has told them he’s willing to listen to what they have to say.
Varilek said there are a lot of issues people want to talk about when he meets them.
“The economy, the need to balance the budget in a fair way — or are we going to do it on the back of middle-class people as Kristi seems to want to do,” he said. “They are also frustrated by gridlock and want someone who will work with others.”
Barth said he will do a lot of campaigning in the final week, but must also tend to his duties as a Minnehaha County commissioner.
He said he will meet with local firefighters and attend other meetings and perform tasks.
“I love being a county commissioner,” Barth said.
He said it’s been a good education on how government interacts with people in a one-on-one setting.
Barth said no matter how much money comes into his campaign in the closing days of the race, he will be out-spent.
He said he has collected about $60,000, while Varilek said he has brought in more $300,000. Noem, who has no primary opposition, has raised more than $1.6 million.
“I think we all know Washington, D.C., is for sale to the highest bidder, but what about South Dakota voters?” Barth asked. “I hope not. We’ll see what happens.”
Varilek said he wants to convince voters he has the best chance to be elected to Congress.
“I will continue to make the case that I’m the strongest candidate to challenge Kristi Noem in the fall and give South Dakota voters the kind of leadership they deserve,” he said.