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Making #Headlines

Only minutes after Mike Rounds finished speaking Wednesday afternoon during a debate at Dakotafest in Mitchell, emails from supporters of one of his opponents hit inboxes attacking each of Rounds' points.

Rounds, a Republican and former governor, is the presumed frontrunner in South Dakota's four-way race for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Rounds is being challenged by Democrat Rick Weiland and independents Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie.

It was Weiland's supporters who fired off email counterpoints to Rounds' statements during the debate, sent even as the candidates continued to wrangle with one another on stage.

Weiland was on Twitter almost immediately after the debate, with a positive message and photos of himself alongside attendees at Dakotafest.

"I'm feeling great after today's debate (and) getting right back at it meeting people at #Dakotafest," Weiland's Twitter account wrote.

When state Rep. Susan Wismer, a Democrat, took on Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard and independent candidate Mike Myers in a debate earlier that day at Dakotafest, posts were being made to her Twitter account supporting the points she made on stage as she made them.

Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and her challenger, Democrat Corinna Robinson, debated a day earlier at Dakotafest. After it was over, Noem's Twitter account thanked attendees, and provided a photo of the debate and links to news coverage.

The rise of social media has forced candidates in South Dakota's major races to adapt in order to communicate with a younger generation of voters. Now, all of the state's candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to be decided in the upcoming November election have a presence on Twitter and Facebook, and have started to explore other social media platforms. The nine candidates running for those political offices have a combined total of 18,663 followers on Twitter.

"I really think it's critical, because a lot of the voters these days, especially in the younger demographics, don't rely on traditional sources like television and newspapers as much as some of us do," Weiland said in an interview with The Daily Republic after the Dakotafest debate

Weiland, 56, is a Democrat and a Sioux Falls restaurant owner who worked for former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle's House campaign in 1978, and later joined Daschle's staff in 1980. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. House seat against current U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., in 1996, and unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to run for U.S. House in 2002.

In 1996, Weiland said he was one of the first candidates to put up a website for a congressional campaign. Looking back, Weiland said, the change has been dramatic.

"I think you can beat big money with social media," Weiland said. "I don't think you need to dominate the airwaves if you can use social media effectively, and that's what I think we're doing."

Weiland has traveled to all 311 cities and towns in South Dakota as part of his campaign, and has logged much of his journey through social media.

"That's what makes what we're doing in social media so interesting," he said. "There are great stories. I've met some phenomenal people and we're telling their stories on the Internet."

Rounds, 59, served in the state Senate from 1991 to 2001, and as governor from 2003 to 2011. The influence of technology -- in particular, social media -- hardly existed during his past campaigns, Rounds said. As smartphones equipped with cameras and recorders have become commonplace, everything has changed, Round said.

"It's a matter of being on cue all the time in terms of message sending," he said. "No matter where you're at or who you're talking to, you stay on your message all the time."

Despite having to adapt to the changes, Rounds said social media gives candidates another way to communicate directly with voters.

"It's an instantaneous type of thing saying you're very, very active in the campaign," he said.

Pressler, 72, represented South Dakota as a Republican during two terms in the U.S. House from 1975 to 1979, and three terms in the U.S. Senate from 1979 to 1997. He lost his re-election bid to Johnson, and Pressler is now running for his old seat as an independent candidate.

Even with decades of political experience, Pressler found himself in unfamiliar territory when he ventured into the world of social media for his latest campaign.

"It's been a challenge because this is the first time I've ever used Facebook," he said.

While Pressler recognizes the effects social media can have on political campaigns, he doesn't think its impact has fully arrived yet in South Dakota.

"Heavy duty advertising in newspapers and television is probably what will decide the campaign," he said.

Howie, 65, is a former Republican state lawmaker from Rapid City. He served in the state House from 2005 to 2008, and the state Senate from 2009 to 2010, and then lost a bid for governor in 2010.

Howie has tried his best to embrace social media for this campaign, he said. He's even taken to YouTube recently, uploading videos of him speaking from his "truth train" -- a motorhome adorned with campaign signs he's used during his campaign travels.

"They're going to learn what I believe, what I think and what I'm doing," he said. "So, social media is very important. When you don't have a lot of campaign dollars, it's even more important."

U.S. House race

U.S. Rep. Noem and Robinson, Noem's Democratic challenger, each have had to adjust the way they campaign because of social media.

Noem and Robinson took part in a debate Tuesday morning at Dakotafest in Mitchell. They discussed how they've used social media in their campaigns in separate interviews with The Daily Republic following the event.

Noem, 42, was elected to the U.S. House in 2010, and was re-elected in 2012. Before that, she served two terms in the state House of Representatives and served as assistant majority leader during her second term.

Noem said she's a fan of social media, but admitted she's had to adapt to the variety of options that now exist.

"There are so many different social media options you can use, that it gets a little bit overwhelming," she said.

Noem said she uses Facebook and Twitter extensively, and recently created an account on Instagram, though she conceded she's still learning how to use it. Her campaign Twitter account, @KristiNoem, has more followers than all the other candidates in the state's major races combined.

"I really think it's a wonderful opportunity for us to interact with people, and not just on policy," Noem said. "I can also share some of my everyday life."

While social media gives Noem new outlets to reach voters, she said it also allows her to instantly get feedback.

"I think it's a very reactive environment," she said. "I think that social media drives the news cycle, and it turns over so much faster that we've had to think on our feet a lot better."

Robinson, 49, is Noem's opponent and a Rapid City native who spent 25 years in the military, including two stints in Iraq. She said she believes social media is important for anyone running for political office, but it's still secondary to traditional campaigning.

"Here in South Dakota, it can't be considered the only way of reaching out to folks," Robinson said. "I think the good, old grassroots effort of meeting people in person means a whole lot more."

Robinson's main goal for her campaign, she said, is to get out and meet people, to be able to tell her story and express her views.

"And if I can keep up with social media, that's wonderful," she said.

Gubernatorial race

Gov. Daugaard relies on his staff to run his Facebook and Twitter accounts, he said in a telephone interview Friday with The Daily Republic. Daugaard said he doesn't personally post to either social media platform, but his staff have used them as part of his campaigns and in his official role as governor.

Daugaard, 61, was elected governor in 2010, after serving two terms as lieutenant governor under then-Gov. Rounds. He also served in the state Senate from 1997 to 2003.

In his bid for re-election, Daugaard is being challenged by state Rep. Wismer, of Britton, and independent candidate Myers, of Centerville.

Kelsey Webb, Daugaard's campaign manager, said the campaign has utilized both Facebook and Twitter.

"You're never offline anymore," she said. "In a way that's great because it lets voters know who the candidate is and it keeps everyone honest."

Wismer, 58, has served in the state House of Representatives since 2009, and said she has used social media in that capacity to keep her district's residents informed during legislative sessions. Now, Wismer said she's handed most of the responsibility for social media to her campaign staff.

Myers, 77, is a former CEO of Mayo-St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester and a former law professor at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Calls for comment made Friday by The Daily Republic were not immediately returned.

Who is it, really?

With often-packed campaign schedules, all of the candidates admitted they often pass off social media duties to their staff members.

Rounds still feels more comfortable in front of a camera than he does behind a keyboard.

"In most cases, it's me getting my picture taken with somebody else," he said. "So, you've got someone who's right there on my account doing it."

But, Rounds said, nothing goes out under his name if he hasn't approved it first.

Howie said he doesn't think his campaign has taken full advantage of social media so far, but hopes his efforts won't go unnoticed.

"I'm not a professional campaigner," he said. "I'm just doing the best I can do with the resources I have."

Pressler has a campaign staff member who runs his accounts, which he said has helped him to adjust to social media.

"It's very challenging to learn," he said.

Weiland said he does a lot of the posting on Facebook and Twitter for his campaign, but admitted he also has staff members who help him out. It's not often Weiland gets involved in a back-and-forth conversation with users on Facebook, but he said he does read comments fairly often.

Noem, too, said she reads the comments left by users, and uses them to see what issues people are talking about.

"I go back and look and see who is responding," she said. "I look at the comments every day."

Robinson isn't the only one who communicates through her campaign's website or social media accounts. But given all the travel that comes with a campaign, she said she does spend a decent amount of time on social media.

Initially, Robinson said, it took longer than she had hoped to connect their campaign's website with her social media accounts.

"I don't have the luxury of having a full staff, but it's not something that I feel threatened by," she said.


The extent to which each candidate has used social media to bolster their campaign bankrolls varied.

Noem said social media represents a small portion of how her campaign raises money, though she's been able to use it to her benefit in other ways, by attracting volunteers to events.

"It's a big part of our ability to motivate and to utilize the grassroots efforts throughout the state," she said.

Meanwhile, Noem's challenger, Robinson, has used social media and her campaign website to attract contributions, and has sent out mass emails asking for donations. Robinson said she's also used her campaign website to post endorsement letters, including those from Sen. Johnson and former Sen. Daschle.

"I think it does a lot," she said. "But again, it can't be the only means of communication."

Webb, Daugaard's campaign manager, acknowledged social media's potential impact on fundraising, but said it's not a method the governor has embraced to this point.

"There's always an opportunity to explore more fundraising strategies, but we're confident with our current approach," she said.

Rounds said a lot of his contributions come directly through his campaign's website, though some supporters will contact the campaign through social media and ask how to contribute.

Howie said his campaign has seen a fundraising response through social media. But he said it's still not the most effective way to attract contributions.

"When we get an opportunity to get before a group of people, they tend to stand up and want to help," he said.

Looking ahead

None of the candidates running in the major races in South Dakota grew up with social media, but many agreed its impact on elections will only continue to increase as younger candidates begin to take part.

"I hope it revolutionizes it so we don't rely on big money to buy campaigns," Howie said. "Instead, we should rely on effective ways to communicate a message to people, who can then make an informed decision in the voting booth."

Rounds predicts the importance of social media to political campaigns will increase along with the public's demand for instant information.

"You'll find out what's going on around the world with a newsfeed," he said.

Noem said politicians are already having to adjust to the speed at which information travels across social media.

"We have to think on our feet a little bit faster and really know what our core values and principles are so that we can respond to things that happen," she said.

Webb, Daugaard's campaign manager, believes social media will be a requirement of future campaigns, and candidates who fail to embrace it will be at a disadvantage.

Robinson, who has three college-age sons, worries the role of face-to-face discussions has been diminished by social media's popularity.

"I don't think we're ever going to go back," she said.