Barack Obama isn’t giving up on South Dakota. Not yet.
The president’s 2012 re-election campaign is setting up shop in the state as it prepares for what many analysts predict will be a bruising campaign against the eventual Republican nominee.
The campaign has hired a South Dakotan as its state director, 26-year-old Ned Horsted, a Harrisburg High School and Augustana College graduate who worked for the Obama campaign in 2008. Horsted is back in the state, beginning the process of building the infrastructure for the campaign – activists, interns and others who will try to get out the vote for Obama.
“I’ve always considered South Dakota to be home,” Horsted said. “I’m looking forward to doing some hunting and fishing with my family.”
Besides working in Iowa, South Dakota and Indiana for the 2008 Obama campaign, Horsted volunteered for Tom Daschle’s 2004 Senate campaign and was the deputy director of the get-out-the-vote effort for the Minnesota Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party in 2009.
Horsted and team Obama have a big job ahead of them if they hope to win South Dakota next year. The state hasn’t gone for a Democratic candidate since 1964, and Obama failed to win the Democratic primary in his first try here. Still, Obama did well for a Democrat in the general election, winning 45 percent of the vote.
Tony Post, executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party, said he thinks the Obama campaign is in the state early to help rebuild a party that is fractured between moderates and progressives.
“I wish them luck,” Post said. “I’m glad they are here, actually. They have a lot of work to do to piece the factions together on their own side.”
Campaign spokesman Ben Finkenbinder said the Obama team is building the “strongest map possible” for 2012, and Horsted is in South Dakota to make that happen.
“2011 is all about us building up our organization,” he said.
Steve Jarding, a Democratic consultant, said he isn’t surprised that the Obama campaign is in South Dakota early. If money were an issue, it might be smarter to focus on swing states, but Jarding doesn’t think Obama will have trouble raising money and funding a national campaign.
Republicans still have to nominate a candidate, and the two current front-runners – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry – have vulnerabilities, Jarding said. And if a strong independent candidate emerged, it might flip the numbers in a way in which Obama could win the state, which is why it’s important to get an early start.
“Why not set up an organization?” Jarding said. “Because you can always pull out, but you don’t always have the time to build an organization at the 11th hour.”
With the economy the way it is, Obama’s poll numbers have dropped, Jarding said. But it’s also true that poll numbers for Congress are low. The presence of the Obama campaign could help other Democratic candidates in the state – particularly if they can peel off enough seniors angry about Republican proposals to change Social Security and Medicare.
Regardless, Jarding said voters overwhelmingly are turned off by both political parties, making next year’s election outcome a question mark. “We have not seen an election like this in my lifetime,” he said.