Update: Hulse will not be the only Democratic candidate, as House Minority Leader Jamie Smith is joining the field. Further update: An interview with Tom Lawrence offers a lot more detail on Hulse, but also indicates that he likely will not make the ballot, giving way to Smith as the Democratic nominee.
The news reports that Barry Hulse, of Vermillion, has filed paperwork to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor of South Dakota. This was first reported on Dakota War College, and Hulse gave his first media interview (so far as I can tell) to WNAX. So far, neither Hulse’s Facebook page, nor any of the media coverage, provide much information about him.
As an unknown quantity, it’s not possible to judge Hulse as a candidate, although his lack of a statewide profile or political experience indicate he will face a steep uphill battle in a strongly Republican state.
Assuming Hulse collects the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot, though, his candidacy means that the Democrats will avoid the ignominious distinction of failing to field a gubernatorial candidate for the first time in state history. Since the first gubernatorial contest in 1889, both the Republican and Democratic parties have fielded candidates in every election. This includes three elections – 1896, 1898, and 1900 – where the Democratic Party ran a “fusion” ticket with the Populist Party, a combination that led to the election of Populist Andrew E. Lee in 1896 and 1898.
Hulse, though, brings a level of obscurity that has not been seen in a modern gubernatorial nominee in South Dakota. Even in years when the Democrats faced long odds, they have generally fielded a nominee with political experience, often in the state legislature. The last Democratic nominee who had not held political office was Jim Beddow in 1994, but he was the president of Dakota Wesleyan University and his wife had served in the legislature. Prior to Beddow, the last Democratic nominee without state legislative experience was Ed C. Martin, a Buffalo County commissioner and rancher who ran against Joe Foss in 1954.
The South Dakota Democratic Party, though, is at its lowest point since the 1950s. The South Dakota State Legislature, with 94 Republicans and 11 Democrats, is the most Republican since 1953, when Democrats held only two seats. Since U.S. Senator Mike Rounds’ election in 2014, Republicans have controlled the state’s entire congressional delegate, a milestone the party had last achieved in 1962. South Dakota Democrats last won a statewide election in 2008, and Republicans notched the biggest win in a contested, partisan statewide race in state history in 2016.
Currently, there are two Republicans running for governor: Incumbent Governor Kristi Noem, who can be considered a heavy favorite, and challenger Steve Haugaard, a Sioux Falls legislator and former house speaker.
Two prospective Democratic candidates, Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert and former Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether, have announced that they will not run for governor in 2022. Other prospective candidates, including 2018 nominee Billie Sutton, Augustana President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, and State Senator Reynold Nesiba, have shown no outward signs of preparing for a candidacy.