Larry Pressler’s Facebook Manager Shares Campaign Memories

pressler comebackMike Doan, a retired journalist turned “political operative” posted the following item on Larry Pressler’s facebook page earlier today.

Doan was the volunteer tasked with running the independent’s social media operation…


He came to my Kiplinger retirement party. He came to one of my choral concerts in Washington. So I called up former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler to have lunch. He answered: “Let’s go to the Cosmos Club.” I should have known something was up.

“I am going to run for the Senate again,” he told me after the iced tea came. “Will you run my Facebook page?”

As a journalist, I was not supposed to take sides in a political race. But I had been retired for five years and quite frankly I had nothing else I had to do. He had no money. He had no chance. This could be fun.

And it was fun. Pressler’s goal was to be the deciding vote in the Senate as a former Republican running in South Dakota as an independent. My dream was to be the king-maker, the power behind the throne, as in Karl Rove.

Since I was not being paid, I felt free to express my opinions and to say “no” if I didn’t want to do something. Pressler felt that my journalistic background would carry credibility, and it did when I made a pitch to other reporters. He called me regularly for media advice during the campaign. I wrote a few op-ed pieces, and most important built up a following on Facebook, part of it by spending his money. You can buy ads on Facebook targeting specific audiences at very little cost. For about $200, I could reach just about everyone with a Facebook account in South Dakota. We had over 1,300 “friends” by the campaign’s end.

I knew very little about South Dakota, and I wanted to see for myself. So with my own money, I flew out to Sioux Falls to campaign with Sen. Pressler for four days. We even rode bikes together on Sioux Falls’ main bike trail.

The highlight was a candidates’ forum at a library in which a fringe gubernatorial candidate brought with him a fake shotgun. The detectors at the entrance would have nailed anyone who stole a library book, but I guess guns were OK. The candidate pointed the fake shotgun to his stomach to demonstrate that a member of one candidate’s Cabinet could not have committed suicide as alleged but must have been murdered. We concluded that this was the story, not Pressler’s talk. But the local paper didn’t carry a word about it. A schoolkid who brought the fake gun to school would have been expelled or suspended, but I guess this was acceptable.

Another highlight was visiting the Sioux Falls bureau of The Associated Press, a company I wrote for from 1966 to 1979. The reporter recounted to me that in the old days, reporters used to rip stories off the wire from long reams of paper that used to hang out of the AP machine. Huh? They don’t still do that?

Just as the campaign seemed to be drifting, a poll came out shocking the political establishment. Pressler had 32% of the vote, just three points behind the Republican, Mike Rounds , who had been considered a shoe-in! Suddenly, Pressler was a celebrity, appearing on national TV shows. Both the Republicans and Democrats poured money into the state, attacking him. Prevously ignored, he was now the target of a smear campaign and I was busier than ever. The three largest papers in the state even endorsed him.

On election day, he only took 17% of the vote, a disappointment. But I have never seen him happier than when he is campaigning. And I can cross “political operative” off my bucket list.

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