OPINION: Does going negative cause voters to choose the center?

PIERRE -- South Dakota Democrats lost their best statewide candidate in 2010, when Stephanie Herseth Sandlin fell to Republican challenger Kristi Noem for the U.S. House.


PIERRE - South Dakota Democrats lost their best statewide candidate in 2010, when Stephanie Herseth Sandlin fell to Republican challenger Kristi Noem for the U.S. House.

For more than 14 years, they were the first South Dakota women to hold the seat.

Now Rep. Noem is battling state Attorney General Marty Jackley for the Republican nomination for governor.

South Dakota has never elected a woman as governor.

We'll know in a few days whether Jackley or Noem will face state Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton on Nov. 6.


Meanwhile, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs is trying her darndest to be the third woman in a row to win the House.

That could prove tough in a Republican field that has Dusty Johnson and Neal Tapio firmly securing their corners.

Working against Krebs getting the nomination is that she simultaneously has a set of elections to run in her day job.

Working in Johnson's favor is the endorsement of his former boss: Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Johnson was Daugaard's chief of staff from 2011 through 2014.

The governor hasn't taken a side in the primary for his successor. If either of the Republican U.S. senators has chosen a favorite, in either contest, it's not evident.

The Republican winner of the House nomination Tuesday faces Democratic candidate Tim Bjorkman, a retired state circuit judge.

Sutton and Bjorkman are the best one-two punch for Democrats in many years.


Whether either man can break through gets tougher by the day. Ads right now are rife with the word "conservative."

Both Noem and Krebs recently went negative in some advertising and some releases.

They made me wonder: Are negative messages, regardless of candidate or party, a reason why tens of thousands of voters have registered as independents in the past decade?

The mid-May numbers showed this third-column has a grip in South Dakota. Eleven of the state's 66 counties now have independents as the No. 2 group of voters. They outnumber Democrats in Brookings, Butte, Custer, Fall River, Lawrence, Lincoln, Meade, Pennington and Union counties. And they outnumber Republicans in Oglala Lakota and Todd counties.

The trend points to more flipping.

Other counties where indies could soon pass Democrats are Minnehaha, Hanson, Hughes, Lake, Faulk, McPherson, Campbell, Perkins, Harding, Haakon and Jones. The same is true for indies overtaking Republicans in Clay, Buffalo, Corson, Dewey and Ziebach counties.

Statewide data from mid-May showed 156,405 Democrats; 249,932 Republicans; and 121,478 independents and no-party affiliations (NPAs).

There also were 471 Constitutionalists; 1,722 Libertarians; and 791 others.


The spread 10 years ago for the November general election was simpler: 204,413 Democrats; 241,528 Republicans; and 83,147 independents and others.

To put it another way, during one decade:

Democrats plunged about 48,000; Republicans rose some 8,000; And every other voter skyrocketed by more than 41,000.

This trend where independents grow faster than any party (or all parties combined, in South Dakota's case) can't be ignored.

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