A big win for Dusty Johnson

To no one’s great surprise, first-term Congressman Dusty Johnson, a Republican, was easily reelected on Tuesday night. Johnson, after all, did not face a Democratic opponent, only the second time that has happened in South Dakota history (and the first in a statewide U.S. House election).

The magnitude of Johnson’s victory set two historic milestones, however.

Johnson earned the votes of 321,984 South Dakotans. His Libertarian opponent, Randy Luallin, earned 75,748 votes. Johnson’s vote total is the largest in South Dakota history, for any general election candidate for any office.

Here are the top ten vote totals in South Dakota history. Notably, the high turnout and strong Republican showing in South Dakota in 2020 placed U.S. Senator Mike Rounds and Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hanson on the top ten list as well:

2020US HouseDusty JohnsonREP321,984Randy LuallinLBTN
2010US SenateJohn ThuneREP277,903none
2020US SenateMike RoundsREP276,024Dan AhlersDEM
2020PUCGary HansonREP272,358Remi Bald EagleDEM
2016PUCChris NelsonREP268,948Henry Red CloudDEM
2016US SenateJohn ThuneREP265,516Jay WilliamsDEM
2008US HouseStephanie Herseth SandlinDEM255,971Chris LienREP
2008US SenateTim JohnsonDEM237,812Joel DykstraREP
2016US HouseKristi NoemREP237,163Paula HawksDEM
1984US SenateLarry PresslerREP235,176George CunninghamDEM

Johnson’s vote total broke the record set by U.S. Senator John Thune when he ran for reelection without opposition in 2010.

Johnson’s milestone is a sign of a strong candidate running a good campaign. He also benefited from running in a presidential election year; with the exception of Thune’s 2010 total, every entry on this list was achieved in a presidential election year.

A ranking based on raw vote totals is biased toward more recent results, as South Dakota has consistently gained voters over the past thirty years. Looking at percentage of the vote won, Johnson’s victory also holds up as among one of the largest in South Dakota history.

In contested elections, the best-ever performance was achieved in 1930 by Republican Congressman Charles A. Christopherson, who was reelected to his First District seat with 84.7% of the vote against an independent opponent (and no Democrat). This, along with Johnson’s 2020 reelection, are the only two times that the Democrats have failed to field or endorse a U.S. House candidate in South Dakota.

Following Christopherson is Attorney General Marty Jackley, who was reelected in 2014 with 82.0% of the vote against Libertarian Chad Haber (again, no Democrat).

Congressman Johnson’s 81.0% in 2020 is in a close third.

The strongest-ever showing by a statewide candidate in an election contested by both parties is Chris Nelson’s 75.4% in his 2016 reelection to the Public Utilities Commission against Democrat Henry Red Cloud. Another post looked at other candidates on that list.