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MERCER: Two real contenders climb into 2018 ring

PIERRE -- South Dakota's primary elections for governor are 15 months away but the tug of war for the Republican nomination is clearly underway between U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Marty Jackley.

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PIERRE - South Dakota's primary elections for governor are 15 months away but the tug of war for the Republican nomination is clearly underway between U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Marty Jackley.

Jackley scored several times in recent days. He went to Washington, D.C., and met with the new U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Then he met with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on the day after the president's speech to Congress.

The stock market rose the day after that speech. Jackley's stock seemed to rise a little too among those in South Dakota who like Trump or who don't dislike him.

Meanwhile, The Club for Growth taunted Noem with ads on South Dakotans' television sets, linking her to a border adjustment tax that Congress is considering.

Noem seemed a little uncomfortably out of place when she visited the state Capitol and spoke to each chamber of legislators two weeks ago. She last was a legislator in 2010, when she ran for Congress.

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About 15 of the current 105 lawmakers are still around from 2007 when she entered the state House of Representatives the first time.

Times change and so does political balance. When then-Gov. Mike Rounds appointed Jackley as attorney general in 2009, many legislators at that time didn't embrace the choice. This session, Jackley seems to be in his best standing yet.

While he was visiting the new Trump administration several pieces of Jackley's legislation cruised ahead in recent days, with his aide Jeromy Pankratz presenting them and with the backing of the state's attorneys association and the sheriffs' association.

The decision by House Speaker Mark Mickelson to withdraw from the contest for the Republican governor nomination changed the dynamics.

Noem seemed to hold the favorite's edge facing both Jackley and Mickelson. When Mickelson stepped back after quickly raising a tremendous amount of money, the contest became one on one between Noem and Jackley.

Right now, at least in one very small and unscientific straw poll, Jackley is winning. The South Dakota Chamber of Commerce asked its members present for Business Day at the state Capitol a few weeks ago for their preferences for governor.

Of the 72 people who participated, 39 percent favored Jackley and 24 percent chose Noem.

A cluster of names followed well off that pace, with Republican Lt. Gov. Matt Michels and Senate Democratic Leader Billie Sutton each at 11 percent and Republican Secretary of State Shantel Krebs at 10 percent.

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At this point the Democrats don't have a clear candidate for governor in 2018. Behind the scenes there seems to be an effort afoot to position Sutton for that role.

The recent declaration by former U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin that she is done with political office took away the Democrats' only recent winner. She lost her seat in 2010 to Noem and recently accepted the presidency of Augustana University.

Both Jackley and Noem have substantial treasuries. Jackley's political action committee donated $367,476 to his governor campaign committee at year-end, bringing the balance in the governor committee to $1,000,922.

Noem converted some $1.6 million from her congressional campaign committee, bringing the amount at year-end in her governor committee to $1.8 million.

Clearly, for their contributors, it's not too early to consider the 2018 primaries. From a view on the ground, it's not too early either. A candidate would need to visit at least one county each week to cover all 66 counties before the June 2018 elections.

Here we go.

Related Topics: KRISTI NOEM
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