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South Dakota incumbents Johnson, Thune, Noem cruise in primary, as voters reject Amendment C

“This victory makes one thing clear: South Dakota Republicans decide their elections, not out-of-state interest groups,” Johnson said in a victory statement.

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U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. speaks with supporters at a primary Election Day watch party on Tuesday, June 7, 2022 at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown in Sioux Falls.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Rep. Dusty Johnson, Sen. John Thune and Gov. Kristi Noem came through the 2022 Republican primary election Tuesday evening with resounding wins over their opponents.

Johnson, of Mitchell, squaring off against former United States Air Force member Taffy Howard for his third term in the United States House of Representatives, was leading by a margin of 61% to 39% over Howard with more than half of the state’s precincts reporting and more than 70,000 votes counted in the race.

Johnson, 45, is the state’s lone representative in the U.S. House. There is not a challenger from another party on the general ballot for November, meaning Johnson is set to start another two-year term in Washington in January 2023.

“This victory makes one thing clear: South Dakota Republicans decide their elections, not out-of-state interest groups,” Johnson said in a victory statement. “South Dakotans want a principled conservative that gets things done — and that’s what I deliver. I’m honored to have South Dakota’s support,"

Johnson campaigned on his promise to be a conservative voice for South Dakota who has kept his promises. In campaign materials, Johnson touted himself as someone who helped pass or implement 15 bills in Congress and for his role on ag issues in Washington, while noting his role as a fiscal conservative to oppose liberal spending bills.

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Howard, of Rapid City, has served in the South Dakota House of Representatives since 2017. In the campaign, she advocated as a fiscally strong conservative advocating for border security and election integrity. In campaign materials, Howard said that “Johnson was voting with the D.C. swamp” and attacked him for refusing to support voter fraud allegations related to the 2020 election.

“Nearly a million dollars was dumped into this race in the last two weeks — but nothing beats old-fashioned grassroots efforts,” Johnson said. “Our team connected with more than 60,000 voters in the last three weeks — we can be outspent, but we won’t be outworked. That’s the work ethic I’ll continue to bring to Congress.”

It is the third consecutive term that Johnson has had a primary challenge in the election, emerging victorious each time. In 2018, when he first ran to replace eventual Gov. Kristi Noem, Johnson won a three-way race with 47% of the vote before winning the general election by 24 percentage points.

In 2020, Johnson won the primary election over Liz Marty May — who like Howard was a West River state legislator — with 76% of the vote, and then proceeded to win 81% of the vote with a dominating showing in the general election.

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U.S. Sen. John Thune speaks at the Mitchell Rotary Club's meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2022 in Mitchell.
Mitchell Republic file photo

Thune cruises in Republican Senate race

Thune, seeking his fourth term in the United States Senate, came out ahead of fellow Republican opponents Bruce Whalen, of Pine Ridge, and Mark Mowry, of Spearfish. As of 9:45 p.m., Thune had 73% of the vote in his favor, while Whalen drew 19% and Mowry accounted for 7%, with more than 65,000 votes counted and about 53% of precincts reporting.

Thune will now move on to the general election in November, where he will face Democrat Brian Bengs, of Aberdeen, for one of two United States Senate seats from South Dakota.

Since winning his Senate seat in 2004 in a memorable election decided by fewer than 5,000 votes over former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Thune, 61, has not been challenged much at the polls in the state. He was unopposed in 2010 and won with 72% of the vote in 2016 against Democrat candidate Jay Williams after not having a primary election in the race.

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As the No. 2 Senate Republican and Minority Whip in the current Congress, he is seen as a potential successor to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in Senate Republican leader, making him a powerful national political force for a state with fewer than 900,000 residents.

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Surrounded by her family, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem delivers a victory speech at a primary Election Day watch party on Tuesday, June 7, 2022 at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown in Sioux Falls.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Noem wins convincingly in governor’s primary

Gov. Kristi Noem also came through with a relatively easy victory over Republican challenger Steven Haugaard. Noem garnered more than three-fourths of the vote statewide, easily topping her opponent. As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, Noem had a 77% share of the votes cast in the primary, with Haugaard checking in at 23%, with more than 70,000 votes counted.

Noem will now face Democrat Jamie Smith, a state representative from Sioux Falls, in the November general election.

The 2022 primary victory was a much more convincing one for Noem, 50, than her primary challenge in 2018, where she defeated former South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley by winning 56% of the vote.

The victory can serve as validation to Noem’s record in office over the last four years, with Noem taking an ardent stand against public health mandates related to COVID-19. She has repeatedly touted her stance as one that emphasized personal freedoms, while attacking Democrats over policies related to gun control.

She has been frequently sparring in national politics in her role as governor, suing the federal government over not being able to have fireworks at Mount Rushmore in 2021 and 2022 and sending the South Dakota National Guard to the Texas border in 2021 with Mexico after getting a donation from a Tennessee billionaire to do so. She has also vowed to sue President Joe Biden’s administration over the U.S. Department of Agriculture withholding federal school lunch program funds over Title IX policies related to transgender athletes.

Amendment C turned back by voters

In the lone ballot issue in the 2022 primary election, South Dakotans rejected Amendment C by a significant margin. As of 10 p.m., 68% of voters in the state had voted against Amendment C, while 32% were in favor, with more than 100,000 votes counted.

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Amendment C would have changed the number of votes needed to pass ballot issues that raise taxes and fees. The increased number of votes would have also applied to ballot issues that call for the expenditure of $10 million over five years.

Backers of the amendment, which dubbed the amendment the “taxpayer protection amendment,” said the bar for passing ballot issues that deal with raising taxes and fees should be 60% of the vote. Currently ballot issues pass with a 50% plus one majority.

If approved, South Dakota would have been the 12th state nationally to set a higher standard than the simple majority — also known as “50% plus one” — for a constitutional amendment. Florida, Washington and Utah are among the states that require a supermajority for ballot measures that create a new tax or fee.

If passed, the vote could have had potential impacts on Medicaid expansion and recreational marijuana ballot measures, forcing both to have a higher bar to clear in order to be enacted in the state. Both measures are slated to be on the general election ballot in November.

State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, said he wanted Amendment C on the primary ballot in order to have the measure in place prior to the Medicaid expansion vote.

South Dakotans for Fair Elections, the campaign formed to oppose Amendment C, noted the large margin of victory in the ballot measure.

“Today, South Dakotans cast their ballots in overwhelming opposition to Amendment C. South Dakotans knew the sacred tradition of 'majority rule' was on the ballot and voted to protect a tradition this country and South Dakota are founded on," spokesman Zach Nistler said.

DISCLAIMER: All voting data is sourced from the South Dakota Secretary of State’s website and from county auditors. Results from Tuesday’s primary are considered unofficial until certified by the South Dakota Secretary of State.

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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