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Incumbents face off in 2 South Dakota Senate races

By Nora Hertel

PIERRE (AP) — When South Dakota Democrats look at state Senate races this fall, they see the seat held by Sen. Chuck Jones of Flandreau as an opportunity to chip away at the Republican dominance of state government.

Democrats currently hold just seven of the 35 seats in the Senate.

Two races to watch in this battle are the 2nd and 8th Districts on the eastern side of the state, where challengers from the House —one Republican and one Democrat— are trying to oust incumbents and move to the Senate.

Democrats are targeting Jones, who was appointed to the District 8 seat by the Governor in 2013. He is being challenged by first-term House Democrat Rep. Scott Parsley from Madison. Republicans are looking to the Senate race in District 2, where Rep. Brock Greenfield also hopes to switch chambers. The Clark Republican will challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Chuck Welke.

"It's no secret that it's going to be a focused-on race, probably by both parties," Jones said about his contest in District 8.

These two races are competitive because they pit one incumbent against another. There are 35 legislative districts in South Dakota, and every district supplies one senator and two representatives to the Legislature. This means House members running for the Senate can compete on a level playing field with incumbents because the geography is the same as their House district boundaries.

The June 3 primaries whittle down the competition to two candidates for House seats and one candidate for the Senate seat per party in each district.

There are no primaries for the District 2 and 8 races, and the incumbents will face off at the general election on Nov. 4.

Jones was appointed to replace Sen. Russell Olson. He has never run a campaign of his own, but he said he's been politically active and helped a little on other campaigns

Challenger Parsley has more political experience, having run in two state elections. He lost a bid in 2008.

Zach Crago, the Executive Director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said Parsley is one of the hardest working campaigners he's seen and therefore has a good chance to win.

"It's a seat that doesn't have anyone who was elected to it," Parsley said. "It's an open seat in my mind, and I think in a lot of voters' minds."

Jones said he considers every seat open at election time. He said his business, military and municipal experience qualify him for the job.

"I've had a very successful first year," Jones said. "I think that I have equal recognition at least from a competitive standpoint."

He was the prime sponsor of several pieces of legislation that became law. One measure that passed replaces the word "squaw" in names of the state's geographic features.

Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave said the priority for Republicans will be to re-elect all GOP members.

Craig Lawrence, chairman of the state Republican party, agreed.

"We've been very gratified that the voters have created that plurality, and we're going to work overtime to keep it," Lawrence said.

He sees the District 2 race as one where Republicans could pick up a Senate seat.

Democratic incumbent Welke is wrapping up his first term after 35 years in education as a teacher, principal and athletic director. He acknowledged that Republican Greenfield has many more years of experience in politics, which means the challenger has a longer voting record for constituents to consider.

Greenfield will finish his sixth year in the House this year and previously served eight years in the state Senate. He did not return immediate requests for comment.

While Welke respects competitors of both parties in the state elections, he said, it's important for Democrats to hold their seats and gain some.

"It's such a one-sided Legislature," Welke said. "A healthy democracy will be strong if there's a strong minority."