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OPINION: This governor's race might be state's best in many, many years

PIERRE — It is good to have this reporter's perch, this inside spot, from which to watch and witness the elections this year for the next governor of South Dakota.

Believe me, this contest is going to get very big, and maybe very soon.

Especially with two millions of dollars stacked up, just waiting, pleading, demanding, to be spent on advertising and promotions that could make, or break, these candidacies.

When these Big Three walked, or rolled, up that long side-ramp and took the stage at the statewide tourism conference a few weeks back, there definitely was a new buzz.

No, they're not heavyweights. But none pretends to be.

Instead they're fighting at their natural weights, to filch a phrase from the boxing world.

Republican Dennis Daugaard, the outgoing governor, has put state government onto a safer financial track. Now in his eighth year, he's added some side-rails to keep it there.

Now a new era is coming, asking its question: Whom does the majority want to take South Dakota forward?

Should it be a Republican, and should it be U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem or state Attorney General Marty Jackley?

Or should it be the state Senate Democratic leader, Billie Sutton?

Each has her or his strengths. All three have holes to defend.

If this were boxing, we have two classic matches ahead, demanding our attention.

First comes the June primary for the Republican nomination.

Noem and Jackley were the two better-financed candidates coming into this year.

But they face a great risk: How much dare they spend in the quest to win the first round?

Meanwhile a very game Sutton waits, holding onto a tidy sum of cash (at least for a South Dakota Democrat) for the main event Nov. 6.

This could be the hottest string of matchups since the Battles of 1986.

That spring Republican incumbent Abdnor turned away Janklow while Daschle waited for U.S. Senate.

Johnson got past Burg, and Bell put Heidepriem, Frankenfeld and Volesky to pasture, for U.S. House.

For governor, Mickelson the younger took out Roberts and crew, while Herseth the younger stopped the comeback of Kneip.

It's not possible to say with any certainty what Jackley or Noem or Sutton might do in the weeks ahead as legislative session peaks.

One or two or maybe all three might start running ads before St. Patrick's Day.

There no doubt will be plenty of news releases.

Jackley and Sutton have their sets of proposals for state lawmakers. Noem faces more of the grind of airports weekend upon weekend between here and Washington, D.C.

Sutton wants to take the state places not gone before, such as pre-school education.

Jackley prepares to make South Dakota's remote sales-tax case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Noem wants a federal patch for that same hole.

Meanwhile South Dakota voters must keep their eyes on the legislative session until the main run wraps up in mid-March.

After the lawmakers finish, collective attention can turn to this governor's contest.

And much like 1986, nothing is pre-ordained this time.