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TenHaken Chooses Second Mayoral Term over Noem Challenge; Anyone Else Want to Primary Kristi?

Well, darn: those of us hoping Paul TenHaken would challenge Kristi Noem in the 2022 GOP primary for governor will have to settle for the boring old status quo. Trevor Mitchell tweets that the Sioux Falls mayor held a press conference under a bridge down by the river this afternoon to announce that he’ll settle for four more years of leading 21.7% of South Dakotans. (If TenHaken wins next April’s election, and if population growth rates for the city and state remain steady, then by the time his rein ends in 2026, Sioux Falls folks will constitute 23.6% of South Dakotans.)

TenHaken plies the urban electorate with a shade of the typical denigration of the term “politician”, telling the bridge trolls that he’s “not a politician by nature” but “just a guy who loves Sioux Falls.” Come now, Paul: if by “politician” you mean the casual and misdirected image of the gladhanding self-promoter, that’s you in spades. And if by “politician” you happen to mean the original, truer, Aristotelian term for a practitioner of the art of figuring out how we should live together in community, well, from the day you translated your love of your adopted city into practical activism, you’ve been a politician.

TenHaken is launching his reëlection campaign for a municipal office seven long months before the vote, but he does not appear to be the only announced contender. TenHaken filed paperwork organizing a mayoral campaign committee on April 26, with GOP businessman, Big-Oiler, and theocrat Joel Dykstra as his chair and treasurer, but previous mayoral aspirant David Zokaites organized his mayoral campaign committee on January 6. In January Zokaites reported spending $745 of his own money on his campaign on things like his campaign website ($300) and “Books on how to run for office” ($75). On July 6, Dykstra reported collecting $52,965 for TenHaken’s campaign (including $1,000 transferred from TenHaken’s own Next Generation Leadership PAC) and spending only $927.59. TenHaken’s well-connected big-dollar donors include Mick Vanden Bosch of Brandon, who appears to be myopic eye doctor who doesn’t think doctors should have to get the coronavirus vaccine.

TenHaken was one of a handful of powerful Republicans who could have mustered the money and support necessary to mount a serious campaign to save South Dakota and the South Dakota Republican Party from Kristi Noem’s inattentive and fatally ineffective governance. His decision to remain at the helm in Sioux Falls leaves the door open for a small handful of brave Republicans to save the brand from Noem’s corruption, nepotism, and inability to advance a coherent and practical Legislative agenda.


  1. grudznick 2021-09-13

    Steve Kirby?
    Matt Michels?
    Our own Mr. Dale?

  2. Mark Anderson 2021-09-13

    He seems like a nice enough RINO Cory. Why would he get into the dirt with the Snow Queen?

  3. kurtz 2021-09-13

    A Republican gubernatorial primary opponent would be committing political suicide but since Jason Ravnsborg has no place to land because the SDGOP will nominate Marty Jackley at their convention he could swallow the poison pill that would elect Troy Heinert next year and jump into the general election as an unaffiliated candidate.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-09-13

    Matt Michels is too nice to primary anyone. Maybe Mayor Steve Allender?

  5. ArloBlundt 2021-09-13

    Well…the candidate that would have a chance to beat Mrs. Noem in a Primary (a slight chance) would have to come from the far right and energize the “nut case”, armed and dangerous constituency that claims to be the Republican majority. I have no idea what fringe issues they could gin up as wedge issues to energize that bunch and get them to the polls. Your standard Republican Noem voters might not be motivated to drop everything and get to the polls for a primary vote. Here’s your chance John Dale.

  6. Porter Lansing 2021-09-13

    Not to be rude, but … one pertinent question.

    Who, with more than a modicum of sales, leadership, and political skills, would choose to be Governor of a 75% Republican majority?

    I know several who could do a great job but they moved away decades ago.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-09-14

    Porter, there are plenty of narrow-minded climbers available within the GOP ranks. It’s just a question of getting them to upset the apple cart.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-09-14

    Arlo, the problem with mobilizing that far-right base to beat Noem is two-fold.

    First, over the past decade, South Dakota’s real far-right wing—the Stace Nelson/Gordon Howie/Phil Jensen/Neal Tapio wing—has shown an inability to mount effective and ongoing political resistance within its own party. They appear to lack the practical fundraising, coalition-building, and campaign-organizing skills to win statewide campaigns. They can’t even muster enough strength during Session to push their legislative agenda beyond the parameters set by the Establishment SDGOP/Chamber of Commerce/Sanford. Beating Noem and her seven-figure war chest in a primary will require cash and skill not yet demonstrated by anyone in that right-wing.

    Second, a far-right challenge can only succeed if it can win Donald Trump’s favor. Kristi Noem gave Donald that ugly Mount Rushmore sculpture with his face on it. She rode on Air Force One with him after the Mount Rushmore hate rally. She went to his Christmas Party in that long red dress and made Melania jealous. Noem has a strong grip on that Trump vote.

    There is no easy path to beating Noem in an SDGOP primary. But the above two points are why I think a mainstream candidate like TenHaken has a better chance against Noem than a Stace Nelson or whatever South Dakota’s Larry Elder would look like. Noem has upset the SDGOP established order twice, defeating Chris Nelson in 2010 an Marty Jackley in 2018 (which victories indicate the challenge that establishment forces face in beating her). There are plenty of establishment GOP donors and voters who would be happy to avenge their favorites by knocking Noem down. Anti-Noem SDGOP-establishment types would put money into a nice rich white male like TenHaken. TenHaken would draw more of the growing urban electorate, who may actually be turned off by Noem’s cowgirl act. The business types who like TenHaken would be more apt to see past Noem’s image charade and ask, “What are these candidates able to achieve? Can they govern?” Give those voters a mainstream candidate with some practical record of success in government and/or business (and Noem has a proven record in neither—all she does is win elections, then spend her time in office campaigning instead of making policy), and enough of them will pick that challenger to give Noem a serious run for her money.

  9. Donald Pay 2021-09-14

    Noem is weak sauce, really. She’s a policy cipher. She’s somebody the establishment could push around, if they wanted to. On the trans issue, the establishment flexed some muscles and Noem caved. Noem depended on establishment money in her first race. Now Noem has money from outside the state pushing her farther to the crazy, so the in-state establishment money isn’t going to keep her in line. I don’t think the establishment is too happy with her anti-science covid response, but they never had enough courage to face her down on that. So, you have weak sauce in the establishment wing, too.

    That sums up what I saw in the Republican Party when I was in South Dakota. Weak sauce and crazy. It hasn’t changed, except the weak sauce is weaker and the crazy is crazier.

  10. John Dale 2021-09-14


    What’s a primary?

    “Second, a far-right challenge can only succeed if it can win Donald Trump’s favor.” — n’er a truer phrase was spoken.

  11. Bob Newland 2021-09-14

    Here’s my hat dropping into the ring.

    The tee-shirts are being printed: “Well, I probably wouldn’t be any worse.”

  12. Randy 2021-09-14

    Is this a who , what ,when,where, and why news article? Nope just another Liberal media outlet pushing their own agenda.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-09-14

    Randy, that’s strange. Did you read the paragraph where I gave you more journalistic detail about the campaign finance reports of both TenHaken and his only current challenger then you can probably find an any other report on the mayor’s announcement yesterday?

    Also funny: while I certainly have a liberal agenda to maximize the freedom of all South Dakota’s, my question about primary challengers is rooted in previous reporting about discontent within the Republican party with Kristi Noem, who is viewed by many Republicans as a substandard manager, not to mention a false conservative who is really just an unprincipled opportunist who will do whatever it takes to get attention and power. If you pay attention to my closing paragraph, you’ll see that I write not necessarily from a liberal perspective, but from the perspective of Republicans who might want to save their party from Kristi Noem’s poor performance.

    So, Randy, did you actually want to critique the substance of this article? Did you want to discuss whether South Dakota Republicans can and/or should find someone to challenge Noem’s in the primary? Or did you just drive by with the standard lazy right wing dismissal of any media that question the merits of the right-wing’s Dear Leaders?

  14. ArloBlundt 2021-09-14

    well…Cory..I said a slim chance…I’m not convinced she’s a political monolith who can’t be beat even though she’s loaded with campaign cash. As Donald pointed out she’s weak sauce, a “feel good” candidate for Republicans with a reassuring back story that reinforces some shaggy old South Dakota Republican myths.But…She polled only a couple percentage points over 50% against a Democrat from the west river, Rosebud area (what’s the last candidate from that area to win a state wide race?? Jim Abnor??)) and is far from charismatic on the campaign trail.She does have the Trump trump card in her hand but, who knows, he may be in jail by election 2022. If the “Chamber” Republicans won’t oppose her (and why would they?? She’s money in the bank) a strider from the nut case right needs to give it a whirl. Turn out in a Primary would be quite low if its the only race on the Republican side of the ballot. The potential candidate needs an issue or two which set s them apart…what that would be I don’t know…lets see how divisive the prison scandal and the Ravensborg impeachment are…once there is blood in the water, the sharks attack.

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