SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has raised her national profile with a hands-off approach to pandemic restrictions, won the Republican primary on Tuesday against a former legislative leader who accused her to use the office to mount a bid for the White House in 2024.
FOLLOW LIVE: 2022 South Dakota Primary Election Results
The governor’s first-term primary victory over former South Dakota House Speaker Steve Haugaard gives her a decisive advantage as she seeks another term in November against Democratic State Rep. Jamie Smith, who did not face a main challenger.
Noem used this campaign fundraising cycle to raise a record amount for a South Dakota gubernatorial candidate, raising more than $15 million through a series of fundraisers across the country.
“She was one of the only governors not to use the pandemic to increase government intrusions into our lives,” said Kerry Larson, a Republican voter from Sioux Falls. “That says a lot about her and how she will govern under pressure.”
But Noem has also struggled to handle Statehouse politics at times, publicly clashing with Republican lawmakers she disagrees with.
Haugaard had tried to turn the tide on Noem’s 2018 campaign promise to increase government transparency. He pointed to the ethical complaints she faces for using state-owned aircraft to attend political events and playing a hands-on role at a state agency as she assessed the application for his daughter for a real estate appraiser license.
Kevin Nelson, a Republican from Sioux Falls, said he voted for Haugaard on Tuesday because “Kristi is a little too high and powerful in her office. She does things that shouldn’t be done.
U.S. Senator John Thune, the House’s No. 2 Republican, also won his primary against two challengers who joined the race after Thune angered former President Donald Trump. Trump speculated that the senator’s career was “over” after he made public statements dismissing the former president’s lies about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
One candidate, Mark Mowry, was among the crowds who demonstrated near the US Capitol on January 6. The other challenger, Bruce Whalen, ran for Congress in 2006 but lost the general election in a landslide.
None of the challengers were well-funded or well-known in the state, and in a sign that Coin was positioned for victory, Trump avoided South Dakota.
Thune is a longtime staple as the state’s former GOP statesman, and if reelected to a fourth term, he’s likely a pick to succeed Mitch McConnell as the state’s Republican leader. Senate. He will face Democrat Brian Bengs, an Air Force veteran and college professor, in the general election in November.
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Thune’s status in Washington factored into Republican Sandra Pay’s vote, saying it would be “crazy” to elect someone who came in second place among Senate Republicans.
“He has power,” she says.
Republican United States Representative Dusty Johnson faces a major challenge from state legislator Taffy Howard for the state’s only spot in the House. The $300,000 his campaign raised was dwarfed by Johnson’s $1.8 million.
The congressman took a measured approach to most issues and touted his work with a bipartisan group of lawmakers called the Problem Solvers Caucus. Howard tried to challenge him from the right, creating a primary race that will show how far the more extreme wing of the Republican Party has grown in South Dakota.
This intra-party conflict was fought through a legislative primary race list where Republicans ran attack ads against each other. Establishment Republicans are trying to weed out a group of dissenting lawmakers who have pushed the Legislature further to the right.
However, Republican voter Kim McKoy said on Tuesday she had one thing in mind when she voted: “Economy, economy, economy.”
She mostly voted against the incumbents.
“I listen to these people talk and I’m like, ‘Do you care if people fight?’ I just don’t think they do,” she said. “I think they care about their causes and they’ve lost their minds.”
Primary voters will also decide on an amendment to the state constitution, proposed by Republican lawmakers, that would make it harder to pass ballot initiatives that raise taxes or spend public funds. The proposal would impose a 60% voting threshold on ballot measures to raise taxes or spend more than $10 million within five years of its enactment.
Democrat Joshua Matzner said he voted against the proposal because it would erode the power of citizens to change laws through the ballot.
“We prefer to be able to actually make a decision in our government,” he said.