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Incumbents Advance in Every Legislative Primary; Only 33% of Outsiders Survive

Tuesday was no great day for outsiders running for Legislature.

63 candidates were vying for 36 available slots in 24 primary contests—twelve two-seat House districts, one one-seat House district, and eleven one-seat Senate Districts.

23 incumbents were on Legislative primary ballots, twenty running for their current seats and three Representatives (Wismer, Steinhauer, and DiSanto) running to switch chambers. All 23 won enough votes to advance to the general election.

40 non-incumbents were on Legislative primary ballots. Only thirteen earned spots on the November ballot, and seven of those winners faced no incumbents in their primaries.

In only two instances did a non-incumbent get more votes than an incumbent:

  1. In the District 25 House Republican primary, former legislator Jon Hansen, who quit the Legislature in 2013 so he could get a law degree to make big money from Big Pharma suing to keep anti-corporate initiatives off the ballot, surpassed angry-dad Rep. Tom Pischke 41.7% to 36.7%. But both men advanced to November by beating newcomer Tamera Enalls, who earned only 21.6%.
  2. In the District 32 House Republican primary, newcomer Scyller Borglum beat Rep. Sean McPherson 38.7% to 35.3%. But Rep. McPherson died in April, and even dead, he kept well-known extremist but Legislative-race newcomer Ed Randazzo from winning the second Republican ballot slot for November.

Among those 40 non-incumbents, 28 appear to have been running for Legislature for the first time. Nine of them advanced to November.

Three past candidates for Legislature who have not served in Pierre ran again this June. Only one, Foster, advanced to November.

Nine former legislators ran to return to Pierre. Only three—Paul Dennert, Schoenbeck, and Hansen—advanced to November. Voters said they’d had enough of six Legislative veterans—Hubbel, Tornow, Kirschman, Bradford, Rampelberg, and Shiery. Only two of those former legislators were beaten by candidates who have never served:

  1. In the decisive District 15 House Democratic primary, newcomer Linda Duba placed second, behind incumbent Rep. Jamie Smith but ahead of former legislator Patrick Kirschman.
  2. In the District 27 Senate Democratic primary, past candidate Red Dawn Foster beat former legislator Jim Bradford.

The only Legislative incumbent who suffered a thorough defeat on Tuesday wasn’t running for Legislature. Senator Neal Tapio sought a promotion to U.S. House, and 76% of South Dakota Republicans who showed up to vote said No flippin’ way!

But in Legislative races, incumbents enjoyed 100% success in making it to November. Non-incumbents of every category—totally new, past candidates, and past legislator—advanced in only one out of three cases.


  1. Debbo 2018-06-07 22:55

    That’s what GOP gerrymandering will get ya. Legislators selecting their voters. I have never been able to find that in any national or state constitution.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-06-08 07:59

    Debbo, I’m with you in opposition to gerrymandering, but I don’t think we can attribute Tuesday’s 100% success rate for incumbents to that undemocratic practice. Only two of the 23 successful incumbents (Phil Jensen and Lance Russell) were in office to participate in the 2011 redistricting.

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