Scyller Borglum and Liz Marty May made zero impact on the Republican electorate in Tuesday’s primary. I suggested they’d at best score a default disgruntlement vote of 30%; neither managed to draw even a quarter of Republican voters to pick them over incumbent Senator M. Michael Rounds and Representative Dusty Johnson. Borglum won 24.77% of the Republican vote; May won 23.34%.
Borglum and May are two very different candidates: Borglum is a Montana transplant with a Ph.D. in geological engineering who lives in Rapid City, likes running, Macs, and coffee shops, and votes reasonably enough on certain issues to make it easy for Rounds to attack her as a liberal dressed in an ill-fitting Trumpist costume. (Primary’s done, Scyller—now you can stop pretending and register Democrat!) May is a hardcore right-wing extremist who runs a grocery store on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Yet they performed almost identically, as if we presented Republican voters with generic ballots reading, “Do you want the incumbent or do you want someone else?”
Take a look at the county-level primary results. The correlation between Borglum’s percentages and May’s percentages is 0.9287. As engineer Borglum will tell you, that correlation, on a scale where 0 means no relationship at all and 1 means perfect alignment, is remarkably solid, especially in a social-science sample. The ten counties that gave Borglum her highest percentages—Harding, Jackson, Mellette, Oglala Lakota, Bennett, Perkins, Ziebach, Haakon, Tripp, and Todd—are the same ten counties (in a little different order) that gave May her ten best percentages. Five of Borglum’s bottom ten counties were also in May’s bottom ten.The four counties that gave Borglum wins—Harding, Oglala Lakota, Jackson, and Mellette—also picked May over Johnson. The two additional counties that May won—Bennett and Perkins—also gave Borglum 49.5% and 48.7%, respectively.
There were only ten counties, all in East River, in which Borglum outperformed May by more than five percentage points, and there were only ten counties, all but one in West River, in which May outperformed Borglum by more than five percentage points.
These well-alogned results show that Borglum and May didn’t distinguish themselves in the primary marketplace; they simply brought out the small minority of South Dakota Republicans who are willing to register their dissatisfaction with the current regime.