Dems duck Dusty, again

Congressman Dusty Johnson

In 2020, Congressman Dusty Johnson made history by running for U.S. house from South Dakota without a major party opponent. After warding off a primary challenge from state legislator Liz May of Kyle, Johnson faced only a Libertarian challenger in November, Randy “Uriah” Luallin, winning with 81% of the vote. The 321,984 votes cast for Johnson in 2020 were the most ever won by any general election candidate for any office in South Dakota history, eclipsing the 277,903 votes for U.S. Senator John Thune when he was reelected, unopposed, in 2010.

This year, after once again defeating a Republican primary challenger, Dusty Johnson is once again running without a Democratic challenger – his only opponent is Libertarian Collin Duprel – and his reelection is a near-certainty.

The 2022 election will be the second time in South Dakota history that either major party failed to nominated or endorse a candidate for U.S. House in a statewide election, following the first time in 2020. It only happened once when the state elected U.S. House members by district, as this blog recounted two years ago:

  • From statehood in 1889 until 1910, South Dakota elected two congressman at-large. All candidates ran on a single ballot, and voters selected any two candidates, with the top two finishers winning the election. During that era, Democrats nominated a full slate of candidates from 1889-1894 and from 1902-1910. In 1896, 1898, and 1900, Democrats joined with the Populist Party to nominate a joint “Fusion” or “People’s” ticket for statewide offices, including U.S. House.
  • From 1912-1930, South Dakota elected three congressman, one from each of three districts. This era produced the only other time that Democrats failed to nominate a U.S. House candidate. In 1930, no Democrat challenged Republican incumbent Congressman Charles A. Christopherson, who represented Sioux Falls and the southeast portion of the state. Christopherson was reelected with 85% against independent Henry Borman.
  • From 1932-1980, South Dakota elected two congressman, one from each of two districts. Democrats nominated candidates in every election for U.S. House during this era.
  • Since 1982, South Dakota has elected one congressman at-large. From 1982 to 2018, Democrats always nominated candidates for the seat; indeed, Democrats have won 11 of the 20 elections for this seat during that period (including a 2004 special election).

Since statehood, Republicans have always nominated a full slate of candidates for U.S. House.

The failure for a second straight election to nominate a U.S. House candidate will be the latest in a series of historic lows for the South Dakota Democratic Party. In 2010, Democrats failed for the first time in state history to nominate a candidate for U.S. Senate, and incumbent Senator John Thune became the first U.S. Senator from South Dakota to be elected without opposition. In 2014, incumbent Governor Dennis Daugaard and Lt. Governor Matt Michels were reelected by the largest margin in a gubernatorial election in state history, defeating Democrats Susan Wismer and Susy Blake by a 45-percent margin. (Democrats have never failed to nominate a candidate for governor.)

(This post is a revision of an earlier post written prior to the 2020 election.)