SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Yes, the campaign for President now moves South. But, ah, that's South Dakota.
And to that other famous bayou region, Minnesota, too.
Super Tuesday's Southern primaries on March 8 loom powerfully over America as the crucial, perhaps climactic, elections of the 1988 nominating season.
Pesky Stops in Between
But there are pesky stops tucked away in the election calendar before then--and two of them are next Tuesday when the heartland's Ice Belt once again beckons.
South Dakota conducts a primary that day; Minnesota caucuses are that night.
Some back-benchers have high hopes in these two states. Illinois Sen. Paul Simon of the Democrats says he must win one or retire. New York Rep. Jack Kemp among the Republicans needs more than anything to break out here. And Democratic Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee has his eyes on a surprise.
South Dakota used to hold its presidential primary in June with California and New Jersey. It was called the "fly-over primary" owing to the irritating fact nobody was paying a whit of attention to a state with barely 750,000 people sandwiched between two mighty urban centers.
So, this Tuesday is South Dakota's bid to stand apart.
State Taken Seriously
Obligingly, the 1988 campaign for President has taken South Dakota seriously.
Vice President George Bush aired his first TV ads of the campaign here last December. According to local officials, there have been almost 60 separate candidate visits here so far. Some campaign staffs here number up to 50 people. Almost every local pol in the state has enjoyed being courted and swept into the fray.
For all the early campaign work, however, this may be the state where the 1988 campaign changes from an organizational battle to one of sheer momentum. Democratic and Republican party officials estimate that anywhere from 50% to 75% of the electorate was undecided as of New Hampshire's primary on Tuesday.
Rick Hauffe, acting director of the state Democratic Party, tells a personal story of going to the clerk's office to cast an absentee vote this week.
"I went in (the booth) there prepared to vote for one candidate. But then I thought it through one last time and I have to tell you I pulled the lever for someone else," he said.
Tradition of Activism
That's how changeable South Dakota is for this final week.
Minnesota, on the other hand, is a state with a lavish--and independent--tradition of activist politics.
The delegations Minnesota sends to the national conventions will be among the largest of any state that has voted so far. But voter turnout at the 4,000-plus caucuses, if the past is a guide, will be the tiniest of the campaign--less than 10%, according to some estimates.
That means that organizational abilities and labors are likely to pay dividends. Some campaigns have been quietly working at it since last summer, and others have moved in their very best troops from Iowa for a rushed effort.
Here is a glimpse of the political situation that greets the contenders in each state:
SOUTH DAKOTA: This is really two states, divided in half by the Missouri River.
In the East are farmers who receive federal agricultural subsidies, and who root for the Minnesota Vikings. In the West are ranchers who root for the Denver Broncos and worry about government water for irrigation. The East is considered conservative; the West really conservative.
Dukakis Gains Head Start
Democratic Gov. Michael S. Dukakis has been here since August with the largest and most carefully attended organization. That gives him a head start in seeking his first victory outside his native New England.
There have been no public opinion polls so experts have only their hunches to guide them.
If there is a surprise in the wind here, the hunch is that it might be Gore.
Gore's large, energetic organization and a heavy dose of television commercials indicate he would like to show well here and quiet critics who say he has nothing but regional appeal.
"This is the first state without a favorite son," said Gore's South Dakota director, Steve Raabe. "This is a state that will listen to his moderate, or should I say, mainstream message--this is not a liberal state. . . . "
Cites Ranching Experience
Gore's pitch has been many-fold. In person, he reminds ranchers that he raises black Angus, like some of them. He has versed himself in the arcane twists of federal irrigation policy that is lifeblood here. He has played his Vietnam veteran card in a state with high regard for patriotism. He did well enough in a Sioux Falls debate with the other Democrats that the local media dubbed him the winner.
And in television commercials, Gore is unabashed: "He's not like all the rest. . . . He's smarter. . . . He's stronger. . . . The one Democrat who can win."
Simon, the down-but-not-out senator from Illinois, must rebound soon and somewhere. The painful paradox for him in South Dakota is money.