Oldest and Youngest SD GOV’s

The three major candidates for Governor of South Dakota are Republicans Kristi Noem and Marty Jackley and Democrat Billie Sutton.  In earlier posts, this blog looked at various historical milestones each candidate has reached, or would reach if elected.  (You can see those here:  Jackley, Noem, and Sutton.)

Although Sutton is an underdog to the eventual Republican nominee, if elected he would set a milestone as the youngest governor in South Dakota history, taking office at age 34 and breaking Richard F. Kneip’s record of 37.  This potential milestone has been mentioned by bloggers including Tom Lawrence and Cory Heidelberger.

Heidelberger also calculated the age of each governor upon assuming office.  A similar chart is provided below, ranking each of the state’s 32 governors by age:

# Governor Date of birth Date of inaugural Age at inaugural
29 Walter Dale Miller October 05, 1925 April 19, 1993 67 yrs, 196 days
13 Warren E. Green March 10, 1869 January 06, 1931 61 yrs, 302 days
11 Carl Gunderson June 20, 1864 January 06, 1925 60 yrs, 200 days
12 W. J. Bulow January 13, 1869 January 04, 1927 57 yrs, 356 days
32 Dennis Daugaard June 11, 1953 January 08, 2011 57 yrs, 211 days
16 Harlan J. Bushfield August 06, 1882 January 03, 1939 56 yrs, 150 days
30 William J. Janklow September 13, 1939 January 07, 1995 55 yrs, 116 days
17 M. Q. Sharpe January 11, 1888 January 05, 1943 54 yrs, 359 days
8 Frank M. Byrne October 23, 1858 January 07, 1913 54 yrs, 76 days
14 Tom Berry April 23, 1879 January 03, 1933 53 yrs, 255 days
2 Charles H. Sheldon September 12, 1840 January 03, 1893 52 yrs, 113 days
23 Nils A. Boe September 10, 1913 January 05, 1965 51 yrs, 117 days
7 Robert S. Vessey May 16, 1858 January 05, 1909 50 yrs, 234 days
22 Archie Gubbrud December 31, 1910 January 03, 1961 50 yrs, 3 days
3 Andrew E. Lee March 18, 1847 January 01, 1897 49 yrs, 289 days
21 Ralph E. Herseth July 02, 1909 January 06, 1959 49 yrs, 188 days
6 Coe I. Crawford January 14, 1858 January 08, 1907 48 yrs, 359 days
5 Samuel H. Elrod May 01, 1856 January 03, 1905 48 yrs, 247 days
31 M. Michael Rounds October 24, 1954 January 07, 2003 48 yrs, 75 days
1 Arthur C. Mellette June 23, 1842 November 02, 1889 47 yrs, 132 days
19 Sigurd Anderson January 22, 1904 January 02, 1951 46 yrs, 345 days
9 Peter Norbeck August 27, 1870 January 07, 1917 46 yrs, 133 days
28 George S. Mickelson January 31, 1941 January 06, 1987 45 yrs, 340 days
15 Leslie Jensen September 15, 1892 January 05, 1937 44 yrs, 112 days
10 William H. McMaster May 10, 1877 January 04, 1921 43 yrs, 239 days
18 George T. Mickelson July 23, 1903 January 07, 1947 43 yrs, 168 days
4 Charles N. Herreid October 20, 1857 January 08, 1901 43 yrs, 80 days
26 Harvey L. Wollman May 14, 1935 July 24, 1978 43 yrs, 71 days
24 Frank Farrar April 02, 1929 January 07, 1969 39 yrs, 280 days
20 Joe Foss April 17, 1915 January 04, 1955 39 yrs, 262 days
27 William J. Janklow September 13, 1939 January 01, 1979 39 yrs, 110 days
25 Richard F. Kneip January 07, 1933 January 05, 1971 37 yrs, 363 days

Notes:  This chart calculates the age at which each governor first took office.  It does not include second or third consecutive terms.  William J. Janklow is listed twice – once when he took office in 1979, and again when he returned to office in 1995.  Unlike Heidelberger’s chart, this chart does not attempt to include “months” in the age, as a “month” is not a standard length.

29 Miller
SD’s oldest governor, Walter Dale Miller

The oldest governor, Walter Dale Miller, was 67 when he succeeded to office upon the death of Gov. George S. Mickelson.  The oldest elected governor was Warren E. Green, who was 61 when he took office in 1931.  The three oldest elected governors – Gunderson, Bulow, and Green, served in a row from 1925 to 1933.

Likewise, three of the four youngest governors – Farrar, Kneip, and Janklow – were elected consecutively in the 1960s and 1970s.

Here is the same chart again, inserting Noem, Jackley, and Sutton in their prospective places:

# Governor Date of birth Date of inaugural Age at inaugural
29 Walter Dale Miller October 05, 1925 April 19, 1993 67 yrs, 196 days
13 Warren E. Green March 10, 1869 January 06, 1931 61 yrs, 302 days
11 Carl Gunderson June 20, 1864 January 06, 1925 60 yrs, 200 days
12 W. J. Bulow January 13, 1869 January 04, 1927 57 yrs, 356 days
32 Dennis Daugaard June 11, 1953 January 08, 2011 57 yrs, 211 days
16 Harlan J. Bushfield August 06, 1882 January 03, 1939 56 yrs, 150 days
30 William J. Janklow September 13, 1939 January 07, 1995 55 yrs, 116 days
17 M. Q. Sharpe January 11, 1888 January 05, 1943 54 yrs, 359 days
8 Frank M. Byrne October 23, 1858 January 07, 1913 54 yrs, 76 days
14 Tom Berry April 23, 1879 January 03, 1933 53 yrs, 255 days
2 Charles H. Sheldon September 12, 1840 January 03, 1893 52 yrs, 113 days
23 Nils A. Boe September 10, 1913 January 05, 1965 51 yrs, 117 days
7 Robert S. Vessey May 16, 1858 January 05, 1909 50 yrs, 234 days
22 Archie Gubbrud December 31, 1910 January 03, 1961 50 yrs, 3 days
3 Andrew E. Lee March 18, 1847 January 01, 1897 49 yrs, 289 days
21 Ralph E. Herseth July 02, 1909 January 06, 1959 49 yrs, 188 days
6 Coe I. Crawford January 14, 1858 January 08, 1907 48 yrs, 359 days
5 Samuel H. Elrod May 01, 1856 January 03, 1905 48 yrs, 247 days
33? Marty J. Jackley October 13, 1970 January 05, 2019 48 yrs, 84 days
31 M. Michael Rounds October 24, 1954 January 07, 2003 48 yrs, 75 days
1 Arthur C. Mellette June 23, 1842 November 02, 1889 47 yrs, 132 days
33? Kristi Noem November 30, 1971 January 05, 2019 47 yrs, 36 days
19 Sigurd Anderson January 22, 1904 January 02, 1951 46 yrs, 345 days
9 Peter Norbeck August 27, 1870 January 07, 1917 46 yrs, 133 days
28 George S. Mickelson January 31, 1941 January 06, 1987 45 yrs, 340 days
15 Leslie Jensen September 15, 1892 January 05, 1937 44 yrs, 112 days
10 William H. McMaster May 10, 1877 January 04, 1921 43 yrs, 239 days
18 George T. Mickelson July 23, 1903 January 07, 1947 43 yrs, 168 days
4 Charles N. Herreid October 20, 1857 January 08, 1901 43 yrs, 80 days
26 Harvey L. Wollman May 14, 1935 July 24, 1978 43 yrs, 71 days
24 Frank Farrar April 02, 1929 January 07, 1969 39 yrs, 280 days
20 Joe Foss April 17, 1915 January 04, 1955 39 yrs, 262 days
27 William J. Janklow September 13, 1939 January 01, 1979 39 yrs, 110 days
25 Richard F. Kneip January 07, 1933 January 05, 1971 37 yrs, 363 days
33? Billie H. Sutton March 16, 1984 January 05, 2019 34 yrs, 295 days

Sutton would be 34 years, 295 days old – more than three years younger than Dick Kneip was – if he took office on January 5, 2019.  (Although a new governor can take office any time after the New Year, traditionally the inauguration is held on the first Saturday in January.)

Noem would be 47 years, 36 days old, and as the first female governor she would nearly the same age as the first male governor, Arthur C. Mellette, who was also 47 when he took office on the day that South Dakota became a state, November 2, 1889.

Jackley would be 48 years, 84 days old, only 9 days older than Mike Rounds when he took office in 2003.  Jackley first came to Pierre in 2009 when Gov. Rounds appointed him as attorney general to replace Larry Long, who had been appointed a circuit judge.

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SD GOV 2018: Kristi Noem milestones

The race is on to succeed Dennis Daugaard as the 33rd Governor of South Dakota. The gubernatorial primary is just over a year away, on June 5, 2018.

The leading Republican contenders are Congresswoman Kristi Noem and Attorney General Marty Jackley.  Two other Republican candidates are former legislator Lora Hubbel and Sioux Falls attorney Terry LaFleurHouse Speaker Mark Mickelson and Lt. Governor Matt Michels have both announced that they will not run for governor. 

The only announced Democratic candidate is Senate Minority Leader Billie SuttonAnother potential candidate, Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether, has not announced his intentions.

In successive posts, this blog will look at milestones, and prospective milestones, set by Jackley, Noem and Sutton.


Kristi Noem

  • kristi_noem_portraitNoem would be the 1st woman to serve as Governor of South Dakota. Her husband, Bryon, would the state’s 1st “first gentleman.”
  • Noem would be the 1st woman to be the Republican nominee for governor of South Dakota. She is the 4th woman to seek the Republican nomination for governor, and would be the 2nd to win a major party’s nomination if she prevails in the primary. Read more about the history of women running for Governor of South Dakota at this post.
  • Noem would be the 1st South Dakotan to serve in either house of Congress and to subsequently serve as governor. She is the 3rd candidate for governor to have served in Congress, following Freeman T. Knowles, who served one term in the U.S. House as a populist from 1897-99 and later ran for governor as a socialist in 1904 and 1906, and Clint Roberts, who served one term in the U.S. House from 1981-83 and ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 1986, narrowly losing to George S. Mickelson. No current or former U.S. Senator has ever run for Governor of South Dakota.
  • Noem would be the 2nd native of Hamlin County to be governor, following Warren E. Green, who served from 1931-33. Both Green’s farm and Noem’s family farming operation are near Hazel. In addition to Noem and Green, the only other Hamlin County resident to run for governor is H. H. Curtis, who was the Prohibition Party nominee in 1902.
  • Noem would be the 1st governor to be born in Codington County – she was born in Watertown – and the 15th to be born in South Dakota. She would also be the 1st governor to be born in the month of November, which is the only month in which no governor has been born.
  • Noem would be the 2nd “Jackrabbit” governor, joining Mike Rounds as a graduate of South Dakota State University.
  • Noem would be the 23rd governor to have served in a territorial or state legislature, and the 9th to have served in the SD State House of Representatives.
  • If she prevails, Noem’s election would continue the streak of Republican control of the South Dakota governor’s office that began in 1979. This period of control – 40 years as of the end of the Daugaard administration – is the longest in South Dakota history, and the longest current streak in the nation. It would be the 11th straight election victory by the Republican candidate for governor – the only longer streak is 13 straight elections from 1900 to 1924 (during the two-year term era).

Kristi Noem: Six women who blazed the trail

kristi_noem_portraitCongresswoman Kristi Noem announced Monday evening that she will seek the Republican nomination for Governor of South Dakota in 2018.  Noem, who was handily elected to her fourth term in the U.S. House last week, enters a Republican field that will almost certainly include Attorney General Marty Jackley.  State Rep. Mark Mickelson, the son and grandson of former governors who was widely seen as a likely candidate, made a surprise announcement last week that he will not run.

If elected, Noem would be South Dakota’s 33rd governor, but the first woman to hold that office – certainly a historic milestone if achieved.  Six other women, however, have blazed the trail by running, albeit unsuccessfully, for Governor of South Dakota:

1922:  Alice Lorraine Daly, Nonpartisan League

The Nonpartisan League was a short-lived socialist-leaning party that was influential in South Dakota in the late 1910s and early 1920s.  The League came into the state from North Dakota, where it met with such success that it ultimately merged with the state’s Democratic Party, which to this day is still officially the “North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party.”  The League met only limited success in South Dakota, however, due to Peter Norbeck’s efforts to co-opt the most popular aspects of its agenda.

During this time, the Democrats and the NPL were near parity, with both well behind the Republicans.  In 1918, NPL-backed candidate Mark P. Bates ran for governor and finished in second place, with 26% of the vote, losing to Peter Norbeck but finishing ahead of Democrat James E. Bird.  Two years later, Bates again finished in second place, behind William McMaster but ahead of Democrat W. W. Howes.

Alice Lorraine Daly was the NPL candidate for governor in 1922, and although she was not nominated by one of the two major parties, hers was a serious candidacy.  That year, Governor McMaster was easily reelected with 45% of the vote, with the Democrats and NPL splitting the remaining vote almost easily.  Democrat Louis Napoleon Crill won 28.7% and Daly won 26.2%.

(You can learn more about the NPL in Insurgent Democracy:  The Nonpartisan League in North American Politics by Michael J. Lansing.)

1930:  Gladys Pyle, Republican

gladys-pyleGladys Pyle is a significant figure in South Dakota history.  Her father John served as attorney general from 1899 until his death in 1902, and her mother, Mamie was a leader of women’s suffrage in the state.

Gladys Pyle set several important milestones for women in South Dakota politics.  In 1922, she became the first woman to serve in the South Dakota State Legislature, winning her first of two terms representing her hometown of Huron in the State House.  In 1926, she was elected secretary of state, the first woman to hold statewide office in South Dakota.

In 1930, following two terms as secretary of state, Pyle announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor.  Incredibly for the era, Pyle finished in first place in a field of five candidates, winning 28.3% of the vote.  Unfortunately, state law at that time stated that, if no candidate won 35% of the vote, the Republican State Convention could choose a nominee from among the candidates.  At the state convention, Pyle could not achieve a majority, as the other candidates refused to withdraw in her favor.  After eleven deadlocked ballots, other candidates withdrew in favor of little-known Warren E. Green, who had finished dead-last in the primary with only 7.4% and had never led in the convention balloting.  Green went on to be elected in the general election.  (Like Kristi Noem, Green was a Hamlin County farmer and former state legislator.)

Had Pyle been elected, she would have been the first woman in the United States to be elected governor without being the wife or widow of a previous governor. That milestone was not achieved for another 44 years, when Ella Grasso was elected Governor of Connecticut in 1974.

Following her defeat, Pyle returned to her insurance business in Huron.  In 1938, she was elected to serve the final months of U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck’s term; he had died in late 1936.  Due to a flaw in South Dakota election laws, the parties were each required to nominate two different candidates – one to hold the new six-year term beginning in 1939, and the other to serve the two months between the 1938 general election and the seating of the new Congress.  Pyle was the Republican nominee for the interim seat, and her election made her the first woman to represent South Dakota in Congress.  The Senate did not meet during her brief tenure.

Pyle returned to Huron after her brief service in the U.S. Senate, dying in 1989 at the age of 99.  Her Huron home, in which she lived for her entire life, is open for tours.  A book also recounts her life:  The Incredible Gladys Pyle by Jeannette Kinyon and Jean Walz.

1946:  Jennie M. O’Hern, Democratic

Jennie M. O’Hern was the first woman to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor of South Dakota.  She was an active Democrat, with stints on the Democratic National Committee and as a Democratic presidential elector, and worked as a railroad telegrapher in Wakpala.  In 1946, O’Hern sought the Democratic nomination, finishing in third with 25.6% in a primary that was won by Richard Haeder.  Haeder lost the general election by a two-to-one margin to Republican George T. Mickelson, the attorney general and a former speaker of the house.

1986:  Alice Kundert, Republican

alice-kundertIt was forty years until another woman ran for governor.  Alice Kundert was a native of Mound City who had served as state auditor from 1969 to 1979 and as secretary of state from 1979 to 1987.  In 1986, she entered a competitive field for the Republican nomination for governor that also included Lt. Governor Lowell Hansen, former Congressman Clint Roberts, and former House Speaker George S. Mickelson, who was the son of former Governor George T. Mickelson.

It was a competitive primary, but Kundert ultimately finished in fourth place with 13.8%.  Mickelson won the primary narrowly over Roberts, and exceeded the 35% required to avoid a runoff by only 0.3%.

Following her defeat, Kundert traveled the state to speak at schools about South Dakota history, in conjunction with the state’s centennial.  She also served two terms in the State House, from 1991-95.

2014:  Susan Wismer, Democratic

wismerSusan Wismer was the first woman to be nominated by a major party for Governor of South Dakota.  Her grandfather, Art Jones, and her uncle, Curtis Jones, both represented Marshall County in the state legislature, and Wismer followed in their footsteps when she was elected to her first of three State House terms in 2008.

In 2014, Wismer sought the Democratic nomination, winning with 56% and achieving the historical milestone as the first woman to win a gubernatorial primary.  Wismer made additional history later that month, when she named former legislator Susy Blake of Sioux Falls as her running mate.  The Wismer/Blake ticket was the first all-woman ticket in South Dakota history, and only the fourth time in U.S. history that two women ran on a single ticket for governor and lieutenant governor, following Dawn Clark Netsch and Penny Severns of Illinois in 1994, Peppy Martin and Wanda Cornelius of Kentucky in 1999, and Barbara Buono and Milly Silva of New Jersey in 2013.

Facing an uphill battle against popular incumbent Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Wismer won 25.4% in the general election.  She was returned to the State House in 2016 without opposition.

2014:  Lora Hubbel, Republican

A single-term state representative and frequent candidate, Hubbel ran against Gov. Dennis Daugaard in the 2014 Republican primary.  Hubbel objected to the state’s adoption of the Common Core education standards and opposed the state’s efforts to comply with requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare.”)  She lost the primary to Daugaard with 19.1% of the vote.  In a bizarre twist, after the primary, independent candidate for lieutenant governor Caitlyn Collier withdrew from her place on a ticket with former professor Michael Myers, and after a court ruled that Myers could name a new running mate, he selected Hubbel.  The Myers/Hubbel ticket won 4.1% as Daugaard was reelected with 70.5%.

Looking ahead to 2018

Congresswoman Noem will be the seventh woman to seek South Dakota’s governorship.  Although other candidates may enter and much remains to be seen, Noem’s financial advantage, her four successful statewide campaigns, and her high profile in South Dakota politics make her a formidable candidate.

Noem is not the first woman to run for Governor of South Dakota.  She is not the first Republican woman to run, nor would she be the first woman to appear on a general election ballot or to be nominated by a major party for governor.  If she wins the primary, she would be the first woman to be the Republican nominee for governor.  And, if elected, Noem will make history as the first woman to hold the state’s highest office.

History made in 2016

Every general election makes history, in some way.  Here are a few historical notes on the 2016 election in South Dakota.  (This post has been updated with the final canvassed election results):

Chris Nelson notches biggest win of all-time, with John Thune #6 all-time

Nelson’s 75.4% is the highest ever for a candidate in a statewide, partisan election in which both major parties fielded candidates.  He exceeded the previous record of 75.1%, set by then-Congressman John Thune in his 1998 reelection.  That entire list is posted here.

Nelson’s 268,948 votes was also the most all-time in a contested election.  Only Senator Thune’s uncontested reelection in 2010 earned more votes – 277,903.  In a contested election, the previous record was held by Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who won 255,971 votes against challenger Chris Lien in 2008.

John Thune’s record was broken, but he can take consolation in the fact that he is the only person to appear on the Top Ten list more than once – and in fact, he holds 3 of the top 6 spots on the list.

Kristi Noem won the most votes in her career

In her 2016 reelection over challenger Paula Hawks, Congressman Noem won 237,163 votes and 64.1% of the vote.  Her vote total is a career high, and her share of 64.1% is just short of the 66.5% she won in 2014 against Corinna Robinson.

Donald Trump wins South Dakota handily

The Trump/Pence ticket continued a streak of Republican presidential wins in South Dakota that now goes back more than 50 years – the last time South Dakota voted Democratic was in 1964, when it supported President Lyndon Johnson over Senator Barry Goldwater.  A prior post looked at South Dakota’s history in presidential elections.

Polling and projections before the election understated Trump’s support in South Dakota, just as they did nationally.  Polling indicated that Trump would win South Dakota with between 50% and 55%.

In fact, he won 61.5% of the vote.  Although this lagged Thune, Noem and Nelson, this is the third best finish for a Republican presidential ticket in the state’s history – following only the 69.3% won by the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket in 1952, and the 63.0% won by the Reagan/Bush reelection in 1984.

State Legislature gets even more Republican

A prior post looked at the history of control of the South Dakota State Legislature.  Several of the milestones mentioned in that post will be exceeded by the newly-elected legislature:

  • The 2017-18 legislature will have 89 Republicans and 16 Democrats.  This is now the most Republicans in the legislature since its current size of 105 was set in 1973; the 2015-16 legislature had held that modern record with 85 Republicans.
  • 89 Republicans out of 105 seats makes out to 84.8% of the total – that is the most since the all-time record in 1953, when the legislature had 108 Republicans and 2 Democrats (98.2%).
  • The earlier post had noted that the six-year average of legislative control during the Daugaard Administration was 78.1%, the most since the Farrar Administration (78.2%).  The 2016 results increase the Daugaard Administration average to 79.8%, which is now the highest average since the Sigurd Anderson Administration, which included the aforementioned 1953 legislature that was 108-2 and had a two-term average of 92.3% Republican control.

2016 Election Preview: GOP winning streak may continue, but it’s nowhere close to historic highs.

This is the fourth of several posts previewing the Tuesday election through a historical lens.  The first part was an introductionthe second part looked at South Dakota’s history of supporting Republican presidential tickets; and the third part looked at the six U.S. Senators from South Dakota  who have been elected three times.

The last few years have brought talk in South Dakota about the resurgence of the Republican Party.  In 2014, for the first time since 1962, the Republicans won control of the state’s entire congressional delegation, electing Senator Mike Rounds to serve alongside Senator John Thune and Representative Kristi Noem.

The Democrats have not won a statewide election in South Dakota since 2008, when Senator Tim Johnson and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin were both reelected.  The Republican winning streak appears likely to continue tomorrow night, with the Trump presidential ticket, Thune, Noem, and Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson all favored to carry South Dakota.

Although the Republican’s winning streak is unusual to the modern observer, there have been several longer multi-year winning streaks in South Dakota’s history, all achieved by the Republican Party.  (These streaks include statewide elections for President, federal offices, and state offices.  They also include U.S. House elections that were conducted by district, at the time when South Dakota had more than one U.S. House seat).

Here are the longest winning streaks:

1.  101 Republican election victories, from 1938 to 1954.

bushfieldh
Harlan Bushfield

The longest Republican winning streak began as South Dakota emerged from the Great Depression and continued for 9 general elections over 16 years.

In 1932, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt carried South Dakota, as Democrats elected Tom Berry as Governor and won control of the legislature.  Only Republican Senator Peter Norbeck bucked the trend.  Democrats also won every federal and statewide election in 1934.

By 1936, Republicans began to bounce back.  The party ran a vigorous general election campaign, led by State Party Chairman Harlan Bushfield.  Although the Roosevelt presidential ticket still carried South Dakota, Republican Leslie Jensen defeated Governor Tom Berry in his bid for a third term, and Republican Francis Case defeated Democratic incumbent Theodore Werner for the “west river” Second District U.S. House seat.

This solidified in 1938, as Republicans won every federal and statewide election on the ballot.  Bushfield was elected Governor, Chan Gurney was elected to U.S. Senate, and Karl Mundt won the “east river” First District U.S. House seat.

The winning streak continued with the Republicans winning every federal and statewide election in the 1940s, including the election of Governors M. Q. Sharpe and George T. Mickelson, the election of Governor Bushfield to the U.S. Senate, and the election of Karl Mundt to Bushfield’s seat in 1948.  South Dakota also returned to the Republican column in presidential politics, supporting FDR’s Republican opponents – Wendell Willkie in 1940 and Thomas Dewey in 1944 – and Dewey against President Truman in 1948.

The 1952 election was the high-point for the Republicans.  In that year, Eisenhower carried South Dakota with 69%, Governor Sigurd Anderson was reelected with 70%, Congressmen Harold Lovre and E.Y. Berry were both reelected with 69%, and the new state legislature had 108 Republicans and only 2 Democrats.

The end of this winning streak was due to the efforts of George McGovern.  Shortly after the 1952 Republican landslide, McGovern became the Democratic Party’s executive secretary, and began the slow work of rebuilding the party from rock bottom.  His efforts paid off in 1956, when McGovern ended the GOP winning streak by defeating incumbent Congressman Lovre for the First District U.S. House seat.  That same year, Ralph Herseth won 46% in a competitive challenge to incumbent Governor Joe Foss.  Two years later, McGovern held off a challenge from outgoing Governor Foss, and Herseth was elected to succeed Foss as governor.

2.  83 Republican election victories, from 1900 to 1912.

This streak began with the demise of the “fusion” between the Populist and Democratic parties, which had elected Governor Andrew E. Lee and Congressmen Freeman Knowles and John E. Kelley in 1896.  The state legislature elected in 1896 was split between the three parties, with the tenuous Populist/Democratic coalition holding control.  By 1898, the “fusion” coalition was already fraying – Governor Lee was reelected by a margin of 370 votes, but the Republicans won every other federal and statewide election and recaptured legislative control.

The Republican resurgence was completed in 1900, as Republican Charles Herreid was elected Governor.  In 1896, the state had supported Democrat/Populist William Jennings Bryan for president over Republican William McKinley, but in 1900 the state supported McKinley in rematch against Bryan.

crawfordcoe
Coe Crawford

This streak continued through the early days of the Republican rift between conservatives and progressives, as conservative governors Herreid and Elrod gave way to progressive governors Crawford and Vessey.

It ended in 1914, which was the year of the first direct election for U.S. Senate in South Dakota.  Progressive Coe Crawford, who had been elected to the Senate in 1908, lost in the primary to conservative Congressman Charles Burke.  Many angry progressives abandoned the Republican ticket to support Democrat Edwin S. Johnson, who defeated Burke 48% to 45% with three minor candidates winning the balance.  Democrat Harry Gandy also captured the open Third District U.S. House seat, which at the time covered west river.

3.  48 Republican election victories, from 1889 to 1894.

At the time of statehood, Republicans were the dominant party in South Dakota.  From the time of Dakota Territory’s creation in 1862, Republicans had controlled the White House for all but four years, and this meant that the territorial officials, who were appointed by the President, were all Republican.  Republicans also earned credit for pushing through statehood for North and South Dakota – Democrats had blocked statehood because of the states’ Republican bent.

governor_arthur_c_mellette
Arthur C. Mellette

Therefore, in the first state elections in 1889, Republicans dominated with outgoing territorial governor Arthur Mellette winning the governorship of South Dakota with 69% and Republicans winning every other state office by a like amount.  The first state legislature had 143 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 6 others (the bodies were initially much larger – 45 senators and 124 representatives).

Republicans continued to win against divided opposition in 1890, 1892 and 1894.  The Democratic Party frequently finished third to the candidates of the “Independent Party,” which was a forerunner of the Populists.  In 1890, Mellette’s share of the vote fell to 45%, but his nearest opponent was populist Henry L. Loucks with 32%.  After two terms, Mellette gave way to Governor Charles H. Sheldon, another Republican.

This streak ended in 1896, when the Populists and Democrats finally agreed to unify behind a single “fusion” ticket, as was described in the previous entry.

4.  41 Republican election victories, from 1920 to 1924.

peternorbeck_r-sd
Peter Norbeck

This three-election streak was ushered in by Governor Peter Norbeck, whose broad Republican support ended years of infighting between conservative and progressive Republicans.  In 1918, Norbeck was reelected and Republicans won every federal and statewide election, save one:  Democratic Congressman Harry Gandy was reelected in his west river Third District seat.

In 1920, Norbeck left the governor’s office and ran for U.S. Senate.  The incumbent, Democrat Edwin S. Johnson, opted to retire rather than face the popular governor.  On a ticket led by Norbeck, Republicans retained the governor’s office with Lt. Governor William McMaster, defeated Congressman Gandy with challenger William Williamson, and won every other federal and statewide race.

The streak continued in 1922 and 1924.  In 1922, McMaster was reelected governor.  In 1924, he joined Norbeck in the U.S. Senate, and Lt. Governor Carl Gunderson succeeded McMaster as governor.

It was Gunderson’s election that led to the end of this streak.  Gunderson was a conservative and his election reignited the progressive-conservative rift.  He initiated investigations into alleged “maladministration” during the Norbeck and McMaster governorships, and ended several of their progressive state-run enterprises.

The backlash against Gunderson surfaced in 1926.  That year, Norbeck handily won a second term in the U.S. Senate, winning 60% despite the attacks from his fellow Republican.  Gunderson, on the other hand, lost reelection to the first Democrat elected governor, W. J. Bulow.  Bulow owed his victory to the crossover votes he won from angry progressive Republican supporters of Norbeck and McMaster.

5.  22 Republican election victories, from 2010 to 2014 (and counting).

Following the 2003 special election to replace Bill Janklow in the U.S. House, Democrats briefly held all three seats in Congress with Senator Tom Daschle, Senator Tim Johnson, and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth.  That ended in 2004, when former Congressman John Thune defeated Senator Daschle.  In 2008, both Johnson and Herseth Sandlin were easily reelected.  That same year, Barack Obama was elected President, with his opponent John McCain carrying South Dakota.

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Dennis Daugaard

Obama’s election sowed the seeds for the current Republican streak, as he proved unpopular in South Dakota and drove voter registration trends toward the Republicans.  In 2010, John Thune was unopposed in his Senate reelection bid – a first in South Dakota history.  Lt. Governor Dennis Daugaard was easily elected governor.  And state legislator Kristi Noem rode the Republican wave to an upset of Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.  Republicans also won every down-ticket statewide election and gained 15 legislative seats.

The streak continued through 2012 and 2014, with Governor Daugaard winning reelection by a record-setting margin in 2014, and Congresswoman Noem being easily reelected in both years.  The Romney/Ryan presidential ticket easily carried the state in 2012, and Democrats failed to field candidates for several down-ticket races in 2014.

Looking forward

The Republican Party is likely to extend the current streak to 26 wins on Tuesday night, but it will be some time before this streak moves up the list.  Barring a special election, Republicans will need to win every federal and statewide election in 2018, 2020 and 2022 to move ahead of the 1920-24 streak into fourth place.  (South Dakota used to elect statewide candidates every two years, which made elections more frequent).  If Republicans hope to surpass the overall record of 101 set from 1938-54, the party will need to win every federal and statewide election until 2042, which would set a record of 108.  That’s certainly possible, but a 32-year streak is unlikely given the cyclical nature of politics, and would be unprecedented in the history of the state.

(There are other ways to measure relative support for one party or the other.  One way, which reporter Bob Mercer has written about extensively, is party registration.  Another is seats held in the State Legislature, which will be the subject of a future post.)