I've been perusing the latest Rasmussen Poll results (link courtesy Dakota 21) showing Tim Johnson well ahead of Joel Dykstra by a margin pretty much unchanged since they've been asking. None of the numbers is a big surprise, although I found the last two to be mildly interesting.
The incumbent earns support from 92% of Democrats and 33% of Republicans in South Dakota. Dykstra is backed by 61% of Republican voters and 5% of Democrats.
Among unaffiliated voters, Johnson leads 57% to 36%.
Johnson leads Dykstra 65% to 29% among women and 53% to 44% among men in South Dakota.
I'm not nearly qualified to analyze them beyond the obvious (Democrats like Johnson a lot more than Republicans like Dykstra), but they did remind me of something rather embarrassing.
When my wife and I first saw the Johnson ads that led to my first post on this race, we realized that we didn't know who was running against Johnson; we hadn't seen anything on Dykstra's behalf. I also realized that it hadn't occurred to me until then to try to find out, which I guess meant that I hadn't been concerned enough about Johnson to investigate alternatives.
This led me to recall something I've heard frequently about elections. If an incumbent is involved, the election is first and foremost a referendum about that person. Unless something compromises the incumbent's reputation, he'll probably get re-elected. (Or she; I see that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is also projected to win again.)
Even if the incumbent gives people a reason to consider someone else, that someone has to overcome the inherent advantages in resources and visibility possessed by the incumbent, then give voters reason to think he'll be better at a job than someone who is already doing it.
John Thune had previous statewide success, but he also benefited from the perception that Tom Daschle had become more about DC than SD. Johnson himself had the same prior success, but voter fatigue with Larry Pressler also provided an opening for him.
Joel Dykstra obviously hadn't caught my (admittedly lazy and politically uncommitted) eye at all; I've seen more of Chris Lein, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you why he'd be a better Congressman than Stephanie. Of course it's only August, and it doesn't take much to spread the word in South Dakota, so there's still time to connect with voters, even inattentive ones like me.
But saying "Here I Am" is one thing; selling "I Am Better" is another.