2022 Election Preview

This Tuesday, November 8 is Election Day. Every election makes history, and this year’s election will be no exception.

The highest profile race this year is the election for Governor, with Gov. Kristi Noem and Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden favored to win a second term against the Democratic challengers, House Minority Leader Jamie Smith and his running mate, State Representative Jennifer Keintz. This blog has looked at the historical milestones Noem and Smith could each achieve with an election victory. Despite the high profile nature of the race, it is unlikely to be the closest gubernatorial election in state history – Andrew E. Lee’s records appear to be safe.

The next governor will certainly be working with a heavily Republican state legislature. The current legislature is the most Republican since 1953, and with Democrats only contesting 13 Senate seats and 35 House seats, strong Republican control is assured.

Republicans also hope to continue the party’s dominance in statewide campaigns, having won every statewide election since 2008. That winning streak is still only the fifth-longest in state history, but will move up that list with a Republican sweep this year. Republicans also continue to increase their party’s advantage in voter registration.

In addition to Governor Noem, the Republican ticket is led by U.S. Senator John Thune and Congressman Dusty Johnson. Senator Thune is set to make history as only the second South Dakotan to win four terms in the U.S. Senate, achieving a milestone that was previously only reached by Karl Mundt. Congressman Johnson is cruising to a third term against a Libertarian opponent, as Democrats once again failed to field a challenger against him.

Down ticket, Republican candidates are also likely to continue the party’s control of their respective offices. Former Attorney General Marty Jackley is running unopposed to return to his former office, which has been held by Republicans since Bill Janklow took office as AG in 1975. Republicans have held the secretary of state’s office since 1979 (the last Democratic Secretary of State was former First Lady Lorna Herseth), the state auditor’s office since 1961, the state treasurer’s office since 2003, the commissioner of school and public lands office since 2007, and all three Public Utilities Commission seats since 2011.

Current South Dakota political figures could achieve milestones for longevity and success with election wins this year. The Over 25 Club is the South Dakota leaders – currently 26 in number – who have served in federal or state elected office for at least 25 years. A fourth six year term for Senator Thune would put him on that list, with 6 years in the U.S. House and 24 in the U.S. Senate. Also joining the club this year could be Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson, who is seeking a third PUC term to follow his 8 years as secretary of state, and longtime state legislator Brock Greenfield, who is running for commissioner of school and public lands.

In the history of South Dakota, only nine political candidates have won a cumulative 1,000,000 votes in statewide general elections. This “Million Vote Club” is likely to expand from 9 members to 13 this year, as Governor Noem, Congressman Johnson, State Treasurer Rich Sattgast, and Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson are all nearly assured to reach that milestone.

Finally, it remains to be seen if any statewide candidates will notch a win that places among the Top Ten general election winners in state history. This ranking only includes statewide, partisan elections in which both major parties field candidates, so Congressman Johnson and Marty Jackley are not eligible. Currently, the top performance all-time was Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson, who in 2016 won 75.4%. John Thune has three of the top ten performances – his U.S. House reelections in 1998 and 2000 and his 2016 reelection to the U.S. Senate. In order to reach the top ten, candidates will need to exceed the current #10 finisher, Robert Dollard, who was elected attorney general in 1889 with 71.0% of the vote.