Noem wins most votes for governor in SD primary history

Governor Kristi Noem, followed by Lt. Governor Larry Rhoden and First Gentleman Bryon Noem, prepares to address supporters after her primary victory.

The 2022 primary season is over, as Governor Kristi Noem, U.S. Senator John Thune, and Congressman Dusty Johnson all fended off primary challengers by double-digit margins.

Governor Noem won an anti-climactic win over challenger Steve Haugaard, a Sioux Falls state representative and former house speaker. Haugaard was seeking to be the first primary challenger in South Dakota history to defeat an incumbent governor seeking a second term.

But it was Noem who made history on Tuesday night. The 91,661 votes cast for Noem are the most won by a gubernatorial candidate in a primary in South Dakota history; her vote margin of 63,346 is also the largest by a gubernatorial candidate in a primary. Haugaard won 28,315 votes. (These numbers have been updated to reflect the final election canvas.)

Harlan J. Bushfield on the Trail of Governors in Pierre.

Noem’s milestones both break records that were set by Governor Harlan J. Bushfield when he sought reelection in 1940. That year, Bushfield won the Republican primary against challenger Adolph N. Graf, a former Sioux Falls mayor who had been recruited by the progressive backers of the late Sen. Peter Norbeck. Bushfield was a conservative, and his defeat of Graff represented one of the final gasps of the progressive Republicans. Bushfield won 84,992 votes to 23,277 for Graff, a margin of 61,715 – both records that stood for 82 years until this week.

Noem’s renomination marks the second time in South Dakota history that a woman is the Republican nominee for governor; she of course was the first when she won the Republican primary in 2018. She is the seventh woman to run for Governor of South Dakota, and the first to do so twice.

Noem is seeking to continue a streak of Republican victories for governor that stretches back to Bill Janklow in 1978; 2022 would mark the 12th straight Republican victory and extend Republican control of the governor’s chair to 48 years. In the general election, Noem faces House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, a Sioux Falls Democrat who hopes to avoid being the 12th straight Democratic gubernatorial nominee to lose. The next question for Smith is the selection of his running mate; Noem will presumably be joined once again by Lt. Governor Larry Rhoden.

Senator Thune’s primary victory continues his pursuit of a fourth term in the U.S. Senate; he would be only the second U.S. Senator from South Dakota to win a fourth term, joining Karl E. Mundt.

Governor Noem and Congressman Johnson campaign together on the Saturday prior to the 2022 primary.

Congressman Johnson’s primary win was the closest among the three statewide incumbents, but he is the only Republican of the three who will not face a Democratic opponent in the general election; his only opponent is Libertarian Collin Duprel. The 2020 election was the first time in South Dakota history that Democrats failed to nominate or endorse a candidate for U.S. House in a statewide election; 2022 will now be the second time.