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Republicans remain dominant by slim margin in historic SD governor's race

Congresswoman Kristi Noem speaks to the crowd with her husband Bryon and the rest of her family by her side after winning the vacant Governor seat during the Republican Election Party on Tuesday night at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown in Sioux Falls. Matt Gade / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — As tallies began to filter in after polls closed on Tuesday, Nov. 6, the results of South Dakota's heated gubernatorial race remained up in the air.

The Secretary of State's website updated every five minutes, but five minutes seemed to drag by when every refresh of the page put a different candidate on top: Republican Kristi Noem, then Democrat Billie Sutton, then back to Noem again.

By 10:45 p.m., results seemed to stabilize, with Noem securing a lead by only a single-digit margin. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results on Wednesday show Noem with 51 percent of the vote to Sutton's 48.

The race gained national attention in the weeks leading up to election day, with bombshell polls showing the candidates in a dead heat up until Monday. South Dakota remains a deep red state, with an overwhelming Republican majority in state and federal elected positions.

An "underdog" from the start of his campaign — noting his double-digit lag at the time of his campaign's launch — Sutton said Wednesday that the unexpectedly tight race indicated that South Dakotans are "tired of politics as usual."

"I think we put on notice nationally and in South Dakota that there is a large population of people that our message really resonated with of accountable, transparent government and bringing people together," Sutton said. "People are tired of the divisiveness."

Noem said throughout her campaign that with her experience working in a divided Congress as South Dakota's lone U.S. representative, she will work to reach across the aisle as governor.

With a crowd shaking red pom-poms as she took the stage late Tuesday night, Noem made history, becoming South Dakota's first elected female governor.

"In my family, there were no boy chores or girl chores. There's just things to get done," Noem told the crowd at her Sioux Falls election party. "So that's what we're going to do. I have some big plans for this state."

Noem proceeded to go down a laundry list of priorities: "Addressing education, meeting our workforce needs, going after affordable housing, affordable health care, dealing with our mental health crisis and also addressing our rising drug and crime issues here in South Dakota ."

Noem has also called for state government and campaign finance accountability throughout her campaign, and has said she wants to streamline government to prevent tax hikes.

Noem had not responded to a request for comment Wednesday evening.