The thesis I forwarded last week – that South Dakota Democrats erred with the ranch imagery for the Billie Sutton gubernatorial announcement – met with vigorous reaction in social media and other Internet outlets (here and here).

That got me thinking about the numbers.

Perhaps predictably, several commenters took issue with my suggestion that a cowboy hat and roping cattle West River may not be the best idea if you want to attract new voters in Sioux Falls.

No surprise there. South Dakota has a rural heritage and candidates are going to play off that. But increasingly – I still believe – if Democrats hope to make any inroads they need to find the new voters, not the entrenched.

Be that as it may, it got me to thinking about the charge of “Big City Bias” with which I have been tagged from time to time.

Or, if we’re being honest, often.

And, in the full light of day, pretty much all the time.

That’s generally true. I am a product of the city.

I love traveling the state and do it often.

Yes, I know, agriculture is our number one industry. Totally got it.

But it takes fewer and fewer people all the time to produce that food. That’s not changing.

Meanwhile, the Sioux Falls metropolitan area is growing. The 2016 estimate broke 250,000, an increase of more than 20,000 people since 2010.

The official metro area includes the four counties of Minnehaha, Lincoln, McCook and Turner.

That number is roughly 29 percent of the total population of South Dakota, estimated at about 865,000.

But we’re talking about elections, which means registered voters, not actual people.

So let’s look at the 2016 election.

And, for the sake of making my point, I’m going to expand the metro area a bit to include basically Brookings to Vermillion, in that so much of the commercial and cultural activity in Sioux Falls reaches at least that far.

I will however, limit the scope to the west because I feel like Mitchell has it’s own sphere of influence. Plus, I’m just nice that way.

Here are the counties: Minnehaha, Lincoln, McCook, Turner, Brookings, Moody, Clay and Union.

(Yes, I know. There are a lot of farms out there. There are also a lot of high-end horse stables and hobby farmers.)

There were nearly 211,000 registered voters in those eight counties in the 2016 election. That’s about 39 percent of the state total.

Pennington and Lawrence counties had about 16 percent of the total voters.

Put those two groups together – 10 counties out of 66 – and you’ve got 55 percent of the total eligible voters in South Dakota.

That’s rather telling in and of itself, but then put that into the context of a Democratic Party currently dwelling somewhere just above irrelevant in statewide races, and it becomes more stark.

There are very few new or undecided voters once you pass the Salem exit.

That’s not a dis on my friends who make their lives and living in the open spaces. That’s actually admirable and lovely. But that’s not where the Democratic Party’s future lies. And if you want responsive government, you should want healthy opposition parties.

At least, that’s what I think.

Consider for a minute that even in Pennington County, where there are voters, it’s not a good time for Democrats. Of the registered voters in the 2016 election, nearly 35,000 were Republicans, versus about 17,600 Democrats. There are more people registered as independent or non-affiliated – about 18,300 – than there were Democrats.

You could credibly suggest that the independent pool in Pennington is a good target. And maybe it is. But my gut tells me a lot of those folks are independent in a way that doesn’t suggest a progressive mindset. No offense intended.

There are lots of fascinating statistics to mull over out there. I’ll give you the links below of the sources I used. There’s plenty more if you want to dig.

Your average political operative spends way, way, way more time with this stuff than I do, so the numbers are no surprise in those corners. This is just my interpretation.

Which is why, going back to my original assertion, I think the Sutton campaign missed an opportunity.


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