Closest elections for South Dakota governor

3 Andrew E. Lee
Andrew E. “Landslide” Lee

The closest gubernatorial election in South Dakota history was won by Populist Andrew E. Lee in 1896. Lee was a prosperous merchant and the mayor of Vermillion. He ran on a “fusion ticket,” supported by the Democratic and Populist parties, and defeated Republican A. O. Ringsrud by 315 votes, or 0.4% – both the closest margins in South Dakota history. Ringsrud was the secretary of state and, like Lee, had been born in Norway. In 1898, Lee was reelected by the second-closest margins in state history: 370 votes, or 0.5%, over Republican challenger Kirk G. Phillips, the state treasurer.

South Dakota Republicans have won ten straight gubernatorial elections from 1978 to 2014, controlling the governor’s office for forty years. During that time, the closest gubernatorial election was 1986, when George S. Mickelson defeated R. Lars Herseth by 10,645 votes, or 3.6%. This modern era also includes two of the three biggest wins in state history: Dennis Daugaard’s 45.0% win over Susan Wismer in 2014, and Bill Janklow’s 41.7% margin over Mike O’Connor in 1982.

The late 1950s and early 1960s also featured several competitive elections for governor. In 1958, Ralph Herseth ended twenty-two years of Republican control of the governor’s office, winning an open seat against Republican Phil Sanders by 2.8%. Two years later, Republican House Speaker Archie Gubbrud unseated Herseth by 1.5% in an upset that was the third-closest election in SD history, following only Governor Lee’s two victories. Gubbrud was comfortably reelected in 1962, but in 1964, Republican Nils Boe won the governor’s office by only 3.3% over Democrat John Lindley, who had been Herseth’s lieutenant governor.

Below is a list of winning candidates for Governor of South Dakota, ranked by the winner’s percentage margin over the runner-up. Listed “major opponents” are those who won at least 10% of the vote.

Year Winning candidate Margin Major opponents
1896 Andrew E. Lee (POP) 0.4% Amund O. Ringsrud (REP)
1898 Andrew E. Lee (POP) 0.5% Kirk G. Phillips (REP)
1960 Archie Gubbrud (REP) 1.5% Ralph Herseth (DEM)
1912 Frank M. Byrne (REP) 2.8% Edwin S. Johnson (DEM)
1958 Ralph Herseth (DEM) 2.8% Phil Saunders (REP)
1936 Leslie Jensen (REP) 3.2% Tom Berry (DEM)
1964 Nils Boe (REP) 3.3% John Lindley (DEM)
1986 George S. Mickelson (REP) 3.6% R. Lars Herseth (DEM)
1928 W. J. Bulow (DEM) 5.5% Buell F. Jones (REP)
1930 Warren E. Green (REP) 6.7% David A. McCullough (DEM)
1926 W. J. Bulow (DEM) 7.1% Carl Gunderson (REP)
1974 Richard F. Kneip (DEM) 7.2% John E. Olson (REP)
1938 Harlan J. Bushfield (REP) 7.9% Oscar Fosheim (DEM)
1956 Joe Foss (REP) 8.8% Ralph Herseth (DEM)
1970 Richard F. Kneip (DEM) 9.7% Frank Farrar (REP)
1940 Harlan J. Bushfield (REP) 10.3% Lewis W. Bicknell (DEM)
1962 Archie Gubbrud (REP) 12.2% Ralph Herseth (DEM)
1890 Arthur C. Mellette (REP) 12.8% H. L. Loucks (IND), Maris Taylor (DEM)
1932 Tom Berry (DEM) 13.2% Warren E. Green (REP)
1954 Joe Foss (REP) 13.3% Ed C. Martin (DEM)
1978 William J. Janklow (REP) 13.3% Roger McKellips (DEM)
1900 Charles N. Herreid (REP) 14.4% Burre H. Lien (POP)
1994 William J. Janklow (REP) 14.8% James Beddow (DEM)
2002 M. Michael Rounds (REP) 14.8% James W. Abbott (DEM)
1914 Frank M. Byrne (REP) 14.9% James W. McCarter (DEM)
1968 Frank Farrar (REP) 15.3% Robert Chamberlin (DEM)
1966 Nils Boe (REP) 15.4% Robert Chamberlin (DEM)
1892 Charles H. Sheldon (REP) 15.5% Abraham L. Van Osdel (IND), Peter Couchman (DEM)
1908 Robert S. Vessey (REP) 15.9% Andrew E. Lee (DEM)
1922 William H. McMaster (REP) 16.3% Louis Napoleon Crill (DEM), Alice Lorraine Daly (NPL)
1916 Peter Norbeck (REP) 17.3% Orville V. Rinehart (DEM)
1990 George S. Mickelson (REP) 17.8% Robert L. Samuelson (DEM)
1934 Tom Berry (DEM) 17.9% William C. Allen (REP)
1894 Charles H. Sheldon (REP) 18.0% Isaac Howe (IND), James A. Ward (DEM)
1972 Richard F. Kneip (DEM) 20.1% Carv Thompson (REP)
1950 Sigurd Anderson (REP) 21.8% Joe Robbie (DEM)
1948 George T. Mickelson (REP) 22.2% Harold J. Volz (DEM)
1910 Robert S. Vessey (REP) 22.5% Chauncey L. Wood (DEM)
1942 M. Q. Sharpe (REP) 23.0% Lewis W. Bicknell (DEM)
2010 Dennis Daugaard (REP) 23.0% Scott Heidepriem (REP)
2006 M. Michael Rounds (REP) 25.6% Jack Billion (DEM)
1918 Peter Norbeck (REP) 27.1% Mark P. Bates (IND), James E. Bird (DEM)
1920 William H. McMaster (REP) 30.0% Mark P. Bates (NPL), William W. Howes (DEM)
1924 Carl Gunderson (REP) 31.0% W. J. Bulow (DEM)
1944 M. Q. Sharpe (REP) 31.0% Lynn Fellows (DEM)
1998 William J. Janklow (REP) 31.2% Bernie Hunhoff (DEM)
1946 George T. Mickelson (REP) 34.3% Richard Haeder (DEM)
1902 Charles N. Herreid (REP) 36.0% John W. Martin (DEM)
1906 Coe I. Crawford (REP) 38.6% John A. Stransky (DEM)
1889 Arthur C. Mellette (REP) 38.7% P. F. McClure (DEM)
1952 Sigurd Anderson (REP) 40.3% Sherman Iverson (DEM)
1982 William J. Janklow (REP) 41.7% Michael O’Connor (DEM)
1904 Samuel H. Elrod (REP) 43.6% Louis Napoleon Crill (DEM)
2014 Dennis Daugaard (REP) 45.0% Susan Wismer (REP)

Abbreviations for parties are REPublican, DEMocratic, INDependent, POPulist (these candidates ran on a Democratic/Populist fusion ticket), and NPL for Nonpartisan League.

In 1890, 1892, and 1894, IND refers to the “Independent Party” which was a precursor to the Populists. In 1918, IND refers to the independent candidate was associated with the Nonpartisan League, which gained ballot status as a political party in 1920 and 1922.