The following post has been revised to include the preliminary results from the 2016 general election. Both U.S. Senator John Thune and Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson broke into the top-ten list.
The following are the Top Ten highest percentages of the vote won in South Dakota statewide elections. Results are only included if they meet the following criteria:
- Must be a statewide election – South Dakota used to have more than one U.S. House seat, and elections within a district are not included.
- Must include nominees of both major parties – this list does not include unopposed results, such as Thune for Senate in 2010, or elections where there was only major party nominee, such as Jackley for Attorney General in 2014.
- Must be a partisan election – South Dakota used to elect a non-partisan “Superintendent of Public Instruction” and these results are not included.
Within those parameters, here are the top ten:
1. 75.4% – Chris Nelson (R) – 2016 Public Utilities Commission (new entry)
After years as the state elections supervisor, Nelson’s career in elected office began in 2002 when he was elected Secretary of State, and he has been a reliably strong general election candidate. He was reelected without opposition in 2006. In 2010, Governor Dennis Daugaard appointed Nelson to the Public Utilities Commission to succeed Dusty Johnson, who had resigned to serve as Daugaard’s chief of staff. Nelson won a special election in 2012 with 67.0% for the remainder of Johnson’s term, and won a full six-year term in 2016 with 75.4%, setting the all-time record.
Along with Senator Thune, Nelson made 2016 one of two elections to have two candidates finish in the top ten – the other was 1904.
2. 75.1% – John Thune (R) – 1998 U.S. House
Congressman John Thune won the open U.S. House seat in 1996. Incumbent Tim Johnson vacated the seat to challenge Senator Larry Presser. In 1996, Thune defeated Democrat Rick Weiland with 57.7% of the vote. Two years, later Thune was reelected in a record-setting fashion, becoming the only statewide candidate at that time to exceed 75% in an election contested by both parties. He won 75.1% against challenger Jeff Moser.
3. 74.5% – Larry Pressler (R) – 1984 U.S. Senate
Senator Pressler was an electoral dynamo early in his career. He won reelection to his First District U.S. House seat in 1976 with 79.8% of the vote (not included in this list as it was not a statewide election). Pressler won an open U.S. Senate seat in 1978, defeating former Rapid City Mayor Don Barnett with 66.8% of the vote. Six years later, in 1984, he won reelection with 74.5%, defeating longtime Democratic staffer George Cunningham.
4. 73.4% – John Thune (R) – 2000 U.S. House
Following his record-setting reelection in 1998, Congressman Thune recorded another strong finish, defeating Democrat Curt Hohn with 73.4%.
5. 73.2% – Dusty Johnson (R) – 2010 Public Utilities Commission
Johnson was first elected to the PUC in 2004, defeating three-term incumbent Democrat Jim Burg. In 2010, he recorded an overwhelming victory over challenger Doyle Karpen, winning 73.2%. In a year when Senator Thune was reelected without opposition and Republicans won every statewide race, Johnson ran ahead of fellow Republican candidates Dennis Daugaard, Kristi Noem, Marty Jackley, Steve Barnett, Rich Sattgast, Jason Gant, and Jarrod Johnson.
6. 71.8% – John Thune (R) – 2016 U.S. Senate (new entry)
Senator Thune notched his third entry on the top ten list, defeating Democratic challenger Jay Williams with 71.8% of the vote. This followed his earlier defeats of Jeff Moser in 1998 and Curt Hohn in 2000 in making the list. Thune is also the only U.S. Senator to be reelected from South Dakota without opposition, in 2010.
7. 71.7% – Tim Johnson (D) – 1988 U.S. House
Johnson was first elected in 1986, defeating Republican Dale Bell. In 1988, he defeated longtime Republican State Treasurer Dave Volk, recording the strongest-ever vote for a Democratic candidate with 71.7%. Johnson’s electoral dominance continued with wins of 67.6% in 1990 and 69.1% in 1992.
8. 71.7% – Philo Hall (R) – 1904 Attorney General
Hall was first elected attorney general in 1902. In 1904, Republicans swept the statewide elections in 1904, with Hall leading the ticket with 71.7% in a defeat of Democrat Edmund W. Fiske and two minor candidates. Two years later, Hall was elected to U.S. House. He served a single term, but failed to be nominated in 1908.
9. 71.4% – C. B. Collins (R) – 1904 State Treasurer
Collins was elected state treasurer in 1902 and was easily reelected in 1904, winning 71.4% against Democrat P. F. McClure. The 1904 election is one of two to have two candidates make this top ten list – the other is 2016.
10. 71.0% – Robert Dollard (R) – 1889 Attorney General
Dollard was elected the state’s first attorney general in 1889. Republicans won every statewide office in the first elections for the new state, with Dollard leading the ticket with 71.0%. Dollard is the only candidate on the top ten list who was not an incumbent winning reelection. He was reelected in 1890.
Now out of the top ten:
11. 70.9% – Bill Janklow/Lowell Hansen – 1982 Governor/Lt. Governor
The Janklow/Hansen ticket was elected in 1978, defeating a Democratic ticket of Roger McKellips and Billie Sutton. In 1982, Janklow/Hansen easily overcame a challenge from Democrats Mike O’Connor and Willis Danekas. Following his two terms as governor, Janklow unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Jim Abdnor in the 1986 Republican Primary for U.S. Senate. Eight years later, he defeated Governor Walter Dale Miller in the 1994 Republican Primary for governor and prevailed in the general election against Dakota Wesleyan University President Jim Beddow. Janklow became the first governor to return to the office, and following two terms was elected to a single term in the U.S. House.
Lt. Governor Lowell Hansen ran for governor in 1986, finishing third in the Republican primary behind former house speaker George S. Mickelson and former congressman Clint Roberts.
12. 70.5% – Dennis Daugaard/Matt Michels – 2014 Governor/Lt. Governor
The Daugaard/Michels ticket was first elected in 2010, prevailing over Democrats Scott Heidepriem and Ben Arndt in the midst of a Republican wave that saw the Republicans win every statewide election and gain 15 legislative seats. Daugaard/Michels was easily reelected in 2014, defeating Democrats Susan Wismer and Susy Blake with 70.5% of the vote.
The Democratic ticket also made history, however, as Wismer was the first woman to be nominated by a major party for Governor of South Dakota, and the Wismer/Blake ticket was only the fourth ticket for governor/lt. governor in the nation to feature two women.