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OPINION: In primaries Republicans are betting big on Trump

PIERRE — Four of the five people seeking Republican nominations for governor and U.S. House of Representatives June 5 have tied themselves to President Donald Trump.

Two are U.S. House candidates: Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and state Sen. Neal Tapio. In the governor's contest, state Attorney General Marty Jackley and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem have.

The Republican exception so far is Republican Dusty Johnson, who's running for the U.S. House.

To this point the two Democrats haven't linked themselves to the Republican president either. They are state Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton, who's running for governor, and U.S. House candidate Tim Bjorkman, a retired state circuit judge.

How Trump plays in South Dakota's primaries might be inconclusive. So far in special elections for vacant congressional seats in other states, Republicans backed by Trump received smaller percentages than he did in those places in the 2016 general election.

When Congress passed the federal tax cuts this year, which Trump supported, and also approved more federal spending, some Republicans in the South Dakota Legislature spoke against their decision to dig a deeper hole.

Johnson might have caught that mood with a recent TV ad. He's in a restaurant with his three kids. "Sixty thousand, sixty thousand, sixty thousand," Johnson says, pointing out how much each child already owes in federal debt.

Noem and South Dakota's two Republican U.S. senators, John Thune and Mike Rounds, voted for the tax cuts. Noem said she voted against the larger spending.

Johnson has a bit of an independent streak. He won re-election to the state Public Utilities Commission in 2010 but accepted chief of staff for newly-elected Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

When Daugaard's first term ended, Johnson resigned and took a position with a telecommunications corporation in Mitchell, his wife's hometown.

Meanwhile both Republicans running for governor claim Trump.

Noem in some of her TV advertising shows herself in the same video as President Trump. Jackley did likewise, and he recently mailed a card to Republican voters prominently displaying photos of Trump and himself.

For House, Krebs talks in her TV ad about "draining the swamp." Tapio isn't in a TV ad yet. He claims to have been leader of the Trump campaign in South Dakota in 2016. (He hasn't shown proof; Trump didn't campaign in South Dakota.)

Hillary Clinton wasn't popular among South Dakota Democrats either time she ran.

In 2008, with U.S. Sen. Barack Obama seemingly having secured the nomination, in part by focusing on caucus states, she made a last stand of sorts in the June primary states. One was South Dakota, where she won 54,128 to 43,669.

In 2016, with her nomination seemingly sewn up, Clinton edged U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in South Dakota's June primary 27,047 to 25,959. She won the more-populated eastern counties while he swept the west.

The fact that only half as many voted for her in the 2016 primary should have sent a signal about the desperate times facing the Democratic organization in South Dakota.

South Dakota Republicans meanwhile in the 2016 primary backed Donald Trump by a significant margin. Trump won 44,867 votes. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz had 11,352 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich 10,660.

Trump crushed Clinton in South Dakota's November general election. He won nearly all of the 66 counties and amassed 227,721 votes to her 117,458.

But before Election Day came the Access Hollywood tape. It showed Trump getting off a bus and describing his vulgar treatment of some women. Thune and Daugaard separated themselves from candidate Trump.

In the end, that tweet-up didn't matter. A majority of South Dakotans voted Republican for president, as the majorities of South Dakotans before them almost always had.

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