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%.
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.