Presidential visits to South Dakota

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John F. Kennedy at the Oahe Dam dedication, 1962.

Fifteen sitting presidents have made a total of twenty-five visits to South Dakota. Since South Dakota became a state in 1889, seven presidents failed to visit the state:  Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

Recently, @SoDakGovs posted a tweet string recounting the history of visits to South Dakota by sitting Presidents of the United States.  The string relied primarily on two sources: Harold H. Schuler, “Patriotic Pageantry,” South Dakota History (Vol. 30 No. 4 Winter 2000) and an Argus Leader list from 2015.

On September 7, 2018, Donald Trump will be visiting Sioux Falls to campaign for Kristi Noem, South Dakota’s congresswoman and the Republican candidate for Governor of South Dakota.  Trump will be the 16th sitting president to visit South Dakota, and his is the 26th visit by a sitting president.

  1. 1899: William McKinley was the first President to visit SD. His train tour of the west includes stops in South Dakota, including Aberdeen, Redfield, Sioux Falls and Yankton.
  2. 1903: Theodore Roosevelt spent a couple days in Sioux Falls, and then continued on a train tour to Yankton and Aberdeen.
  3. 1911: William Howard Taft visited several Black Hills cities by train, before crossing the state with stops in Pierre, Huron, Redfield and Aberdeen.
  4. 1919: Woodrow Wilson spoke at the Sioux Falls Coliseum during his train tour promoting the League of Nations. He suffered a debilitating stroke later on the tour and was an invalid for the remainder of his term.
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    Peter Norbeck and Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills, 1927.

    1927: Calvin and Grace Coolidge famously spent their summer in Custer State Park at the State Game Lodge, as recently recounted by Seth Tupper.

  6. 1936: Franklin D. Roosevelt visited South Dakota on a train tour, with stops in Aberdeen, Redfield and Pierre, before visiting Mount Rushmore to dedicate Jefferson’s face.
  7. 1953: Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Rapid City to address the Young Republican National Federation, and spent two days in Custer State Park at the State Game Lodge.
  8. 1962: John F. Kennedy visited Pierre to dedicate the Oahe Dam.
  9. 1969: Richard Nixon visited Madison to dedicate the Karl E. Mundt Library at General Beadle State College (today Dakota State University). Nixon and Mundt were old friends from their time together in Congress.
  10. 1974: Gerald R. Ford made a campaign stop for GOP candidates in Sioux Falls.
  11. 1976: Ford visited Ellsworth AFB on his way back to DC from a vacation in Vail, Colorado.
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    Ronald Reagan speaks at a campaign event for Jim Abdnor, as Bill Janklow and George S. Mickelson look on, 1986.

    1986: Ronald Reagan came to Sioux Falls to campaign for U.S. Senator Jim Abdnor, who ultimately lost reelection to Tom Daschle.

  13. 1986: Reagan made a second campaign stop for Abdnor, in Rapid City.
  14. 1989: George Bush visited Sioux Falls to join Gov. George S. Mickelson in a celebration of South Dakota’s state centennial.
  15. 1991: Bush visited Mt. Rushmore, to officially dedicate the monument on the 50th anniversary of its completion.
  16. 1992: Bush made a campaign stop in Montrose, as he campaigned for reelection.
  17. 1992: Bush returned, this time for a campaign stop in Sioux Falls at the fairgrounds. He ultimately lost the election to Bill Clinton.
  18. 1996: Bill Clinton made a reelection campaign stop in Brandon.
  19. 1996: Clinton made his final campaign stop of the 1996 campaign in Sioux Falls.
  20. 1999: Clinton visited the Pine Ridge Reservation, as part of a tour of the nation’s most poverty-stricken places.
  21. 2001: George W. Bush held a rally at the SD Air National Guard hanger in Sioux Falls.
  22. 2002: Bush visited an ethanol plant in Wentworth and held a rally at the Sioux Falls Arena for John Thune’s 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate.
  23. 2002: Bush held a rally for John Thune’s U.S. Senate campaign at Mt. Rushmore.
  24. 2002: Bush returned for a rally for Thune in Aberdeen at the Barnett Center. Thune narrowly lost the 2002 election to incumbent Tim Johnson, but defeated U.S. Senator Tom Daschle two years later.

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    Barack Obama speaks at Lake Area Technical Institute as Dennis Daugaard looks on, 2015.
  25. 2015: Barack Obama made SD the 50th state he visited as president, when he delivered the commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute.
  26. 2018: On September 7, Donald Trump is planning to visit Sioux Falls to headline a fundraiser for Kristi Noem, SD’s congresswoman and the GOP nominee for governor.

It’s worth noting that at least 11 of the 26 presidential visits, including Trump’s, were for explicitly political purposes. Of course, every presidential trip is political to some degree.  It is probably no coincidence that, since World War II, the only presidents not to visit South Dakota are Truman, Johnson and Carter, all Democrats – although Johnson is the most recent Democrat to win South Dakota’s electoral votes, in 1964.