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Wiltse: Smith Within 3 Points of Noem; Bengs Behind Thune by 20

At the beginning of September, some Democrats were rumoring that Kristi Noem’s internal campaign polling showed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith just three points behind the incumbent, 45%–42%. Last week Democratic U.S. Senate candidate released his own polling showing he’s within seven points of incumbent Senator John Thune, 45%–38%.

I dismissed both claims as unreliable partisan propaganda. However, Dr. David Wiltse, coordinator of the SDSU poll, says the Noem-Smith race may indeed be that close.

On South Dakota Public Broadcasting yesterday (scroll to 11:30 in the audio), Dr. Wiltse said he was polling the two big races last week. He indicated the results aren’t final yet (and there’s no release on the SDSU Poll website yet), but he says his preliminary results show Noem at 45% and Smith at 42%, within the margin of error.

“As far as Thune being vulnerable,” says Wiltse, “I would probably not frame it that way.” Wiltse says he finds Thune at 51% and Bengs at 31%.

Wiltse notes that his results are consistent with past polling that has shown Noem regularly underperforming other South Dakota Republicans by 5 to 10 percentage points.

Wiltse says Noem’s statistical dead heat may be tied to the data he’s finding on South Dakotans’ opinions on abortion. Wiltse says his latest poll shows 46% of South Dakotans support the status quo ante Dobbs, the Roe regulatory regime that Dakotans for Health plans to write into the South Dakota Constitution in 2024. 43% of respondents support the Alito Court’s Dobbs regime that has allowed South Dakota’s trigger law to come into effect and ban nearly all abortions.

Wiltse offered his poll respondents five scenarios of abortion regulation and found 75% expressing “some serious opposition to not having this exclusion” for rape or incest in South Dakota’s abortion laws. On abortion policy, Noem is thus running against the preference of three out of four South Dakotans.

Brian Bengs is as publicly pro-choice as Jamie Smith. Thune is at least as responsible for South Dakota’s current abortion ban as Noem: Thune voted to confirm the three Trump justices (plus Justices Roberts and Alito back in 2005) who made South Dakota’s Handmaid’s Tale possible. Noem wasn’t even in the Legislature in 2005 when it passed Governor Mike Rounds’s trigger law. Noem is responsible for the current blanket abortion ban more by inaction, specifically chickening out of a Special Session that could have resulted in rape and incest exceptions and other uncomfortable discussions.

But Bengs is also running against a U.S. Senator who hasn’t faced a tight race since 2004 and who isn’t carrying around the inherent negatives that have dogged Noem throughout her career. If abortion driving the Noem-Smith poll numbers, Bengs has just one month left to figure out how to get voters to make the same connection between their votes and women’s freedom in the Senate race.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-10-06 07:31

    At Donald Trump’s urging Mrs. Noem did nearly everything in her power to exterminate all the Indigenous Americans in South Dakota but in an October non-surprise Republicans died in far greater numbers from the Trump virus.

  2. flopster 2022-10-06 09:40

    So glad Jamie is giving ol’ fakey KN a run for her $$.
    I will dance in the street when he DEFEATS her ! Aren’t SDAK’s sick & tired of her dishonest ways/words ?
    How ridiculous that just a ‘party’ affiliation can put someone in office no matter the track record.
    This abortion issue is dragging the country & will continue to do so.
    Time for a change.

  3. Ryan 2022-10-06 10:03

    I also really hope Jamie wins. First and foremost, he would do the job better. But second, and almost as foremost, I want to see kristi’s sad face when she has to be on camera as an officially-determined loser. I wonder if she’ll come up with some way to challenge or if she’ll sulk off to the pull-out couch in corey lewandowski’s hotel room. The couch doesn’t transform into a bed, either, it’s just a couch.

  4. O 2022-10-06 11:12

    Losing the Governor’s race would only result in one fewer slush funds to dip into for national campaign travel for Noem. I’d say it wold free up time for her campaign travel, but I don’t see that governance has infringed on that priority at all.

  5. bearcreekbat 2022-10-06 11:19

    As best I can tell there still has been virtually no real public publicity about the wide range effect of SD’s multiple trigger laws (See .eg., SDCL 34-23A-3, 4 and 5 – some of the SD statutes that specifically authorized legal abortions pursuant to the Roe standards), which have now been automatically repealed due to the SCOTUS decision in Dobbs overruling Roe. After Dobbs these trigger statutes expanded the scope of SD’s First Degree murder statutes (see e.g. SDCL 22-16-4) and the SD statutes on aggravating circumstances for the death sentence (see e.g., SDCL 22-6-1 and SDCL 23A-27A-1(6)). Unless one of Wiltse’s “five scenarios of abortion regulation” included the scenario where the woman, her medical provider, and any family member or friend that helped her with her abortion, could now be charged and convicted of First Degree murder and sentenced to death according to the plain language of these SD statutes, the public is still pretty much in the dark. It doesn’t help that Noem has publicly claimed that the woman that chooses to illegally terminate her pregnancy cannot be charged with a crime, such as violating SDCL 22-17-5.1 (the 5 year felony trigger statute). That public statement by Noem certainly has mislead a substantial portion of potential voters about the consequences facing a woman for having the temerity to take the necessary medical steps to protect her own body from an unwanted or unsafe preganacy.

    With Wiltse’s polling at 46% in favor of the woman’s pre-Dobbs right to choose, and 43% opposing a woman’s right to choose, and assuming Wiltse did not ask about the death sentence and murder statutes, one has to wonder how these numbers would change if the people polled were actually aware that the State now has the new statutory authority to increase the members of groups that can be executed (or threatened with execution to induce guilty pleas to mandatory life sentences or 5 year felonies). Would more South Dakotan cheer such a grant of power to the State, or would more people be horrified (like me) at this development, or would most people simply not care one way or another?

  6. jim 2022-10-06 14:55

    Throwing a fit.

    The Noem campaign is not happy about this poll. But it’s hard for them to say it’s off when it also shows a 20 point Thune lead. Noem is spending all of that campaign money with nothing to show for it. The more they advertise, the worse they do. I know I am more repelled when I see her ads and signs.

    I was also a bit skeptical when that leaked internal poll suggested that the race was close. Until I saw the response from the Noem campaign last week. They were cagey about where the race stood.

    Smith could win without spending much on the race. But it’s more likely to happen if he can get some significant airtime before November. I am starting to get a wee bit excited.

  7. 96Tears 2022-10-06 15:19

    Jim, it looks like she’s throwing all she’s got and the kitchen sink. We’re seeing the goofy mom ad and her rusty razor blade slasher ad portraying Smith as a Black Lives Matter thug. At the same time! So, what’s her message? “I can do cute, but we all know my trademark is the manure spreader.”

    Well, Princess, this is what you get when you sit in office for one whole term and do NOTHING of merit.

    In a state with less than 32 percent Democrat registrations and more than 90 percent Republicans in the legislature, you can’t squeak through on a re-elect and expect national donors and GOP activists will take you seriously for any national position, especially in a very red state with only three electoral votes.

    It had better be a double-digit win or it’s bye-bye to national prospects for the 1990 State Snow Queen.

    (Think about it. That was 32 years ago and she hasn’t learned anything since.)

  8. jim 2022-10-06 15:24

    There are always rumors about politicians and their sex lives. I don’t usually pay much attention to them. But when the candidate reinforces them like Noem has done, those rumors can start shedding votes.

    After everything he has done, it was foolish to bring back Corey Lewandowski as an advisor. But it’s another level of stupid to be meeting with him repeatedly in person. It could cost her a couple points. And that may be enough.

  9. jim 2022-10-06 15:53

    That’s right, 96Tears. Personally, I don’t like the ad with her mother either. Although I am sure she is a nice lady.

    Noem’s attack ads are predictable and unconvincing. I believe they’re hurting her. Maybe Jamie Smith should offer to pay for them.

  10. BGM 2022-10-06 17:35

    The big difference is if you get in a room with Thune, and you are of the opposite party, he does not immediately disrespect you personally, which is what Noem does.

  11. larry kurtz 2022-10-06 20:09

    I just sent Representative Smith another $100 as he is raising funds without interference from the Democratic Governor’s Association.


  12. mike from iowa 2022-10-07 09:07

    Within 3 points of Noem? That is a scary thought considering the queen witch is half bubble off plumb.

  13. Mark Anderson 2022-10-07 11:24

    Gosh a Rino is ahead of Kristi? Can’t Ian do something about that? Ian’s Fury is something to behold. We lost six of our giant trees to it just last week. Surely he can come up with something? Perhaps most of the Republicans in So. Dak. are secretly Rinos?
    Three questions and a speculation and I’m done. Back to the yard work.

  14. Arlo Blundt 2022-10-07 12:20

    Sorry about the Hurricane Ian damage down in Sarasota, Mark. Hope you can bounce back…can the Twins get on the field this spring (February) in Fort Myers???

  15. Guy 2022-10-07 18:26

    Well, I think this week shed some light on what’s really going on. It’s the way Noem and her campaign have reacted to the recent SDSU poll, it confirms that their internal leaked poll was true. If she were confident, she would have released her internal poll and bragged about it by now. But, the fact that the election is just a month away and Noem has not released her own campaign’s poll and they’ve ranted and raved over this one, tells me that their own internal polling shows she is in trouble and they all know it.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-10-07 18:31

    Guy, this poll doesn’t explain why she’s flying around the country this week and next and not blitzing South Dakota with campaign appearances. Isn’t the logical response to such a tight race to spend every waking moment either at her desk in Pierre holding press conferences or hosting “Capital for a Day” three times a week all around the state?

  17. Guy 2022-10-07 18:38

    Cory, not necessarily. I’ve seen races before where the incumbent has a false sense of security as well as being out of touch because over confidence. Toss-up polls are historically never good news for the incumbent. If her own internal poll had her ahead in early September, she would have released it by now.

  18. Guy 2022-10-07 18:43

    The great news for Jamie in this SDSU Poll is he can build on the momentum it gives him as a challenger. Other undecided voters are now just waking up and if they never liked Noem, this poll pushes them to get to the polls and vote because it shows them that Jamie has a very good chance of winning. Many will view it as Jamie is competitive has a very good chance of winning and they want to be part of putting him over the finish line first. So far, I see Jamie and his campaign have take note and they are going all out now.

  19. Guy 2022-10-07 18:46

    The other great news for Jamie is that future people who will be called by other pollsters who were undecided until now and don’t like Noem, may be more apt to tell the pollsters they will vote for Jamie as well as actually vote for him. In other words, this could have an influence over future polls to be released.

  20. Guy 2022-10-07 18:49

    I see parallels in this newly released poll to the Thune – Daschle Race of 2004. The first poll released showed Thune in striking distance of Daschle and the momentum just built from there on. Like Thune, all Smith had to do was get within striking distance of Noem on the very first poll. Also like Thune, Smith has learned how to keep the momentum going.

  21. Guy 2022-10-07 19:05

    It also appears a lot of Thune supporters are going to vote for Smith. Thune is way ahead in the SDSU Poll while Noem is way behind. Split-ticket voting is going to happen according to this poll.

  22. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-10-08 08:05

    Indeed, Guy: the fact that Thune can lead by 20 while Noem leads only by 3 indicates a serious weakness in Noem’s image. Smith is only slightly better known outside political circles than Bengs. Maybe Smith has a name-recognition advantage in (a) living and working in Sioux Falls while Bengs has lived and worked in Aberdeen and (b) growing up and making connections in SD all his life while Bengs moved here in 2016. But those differences in Democratic candidate biography shouldn’t make a 17-point difference in how well South Dakotans stick with the R brand.

    Noem is a liability to the Republican Party. She put their hold on Pierre at risk in 2018; she’s doing it again this year. When she can only barely beat liberals in a measly statewide race in South Dakota, she has little chance of winning a national contest. Noem’s 2024 primary opponents and the national GOP dealmakers should study her poor performance in South Dakota closely and throw their money behind better national candidates for the White House in 2024.

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