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SD Governors: A Telling History

October 3, 2010, 10:00 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

SD Governors: A Telling History
We are now less than one month away from the November election, when South Dakotans will vote on many important issues and offices.

That includes the race for the Governor's office in Pierre. Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard and Senator Scott Heidepriem are facing off after as Governor Mike Rounds prepares to give up the title after eight years.

Voters will be filling out ballots next month - ballots that are full of choices. One of those choices is who will become the 32nd governor for the state of South Dakota.

But looking at the history of the state, one thing is clear: without looking at the name of the candidates; one is favored simply on political party alone, and that's the Republican.

"We've had, of course Democrats win for Congress and depending on what district you're talking about people do vote Democrat for state legislature at times, but we're generally considered a fairly strong Republican state in terms of the expectations of how the voting is going to go," Augustana College Political Science Professor Brent Lerseth said.

In fact, dating back to 1889, South Dakotans have only elected a Democrat to the governor's office four times. However, Lerseth says there are some ways that democrats can try to make up some ground.

"Given the fact that you're probably going to come into the race a little bit behind, just because the Republican Party tends to do very well in terms of the governor race, you're going to have to do something to make yourself standout a little bit relative to your Republican opponent," Lerseth said.

There is one area of the state where Democrats generally gain more support. That is the Sioux Falls area.  However, to win, Lerseth says a candidate needs to gain statewide support.

Also, looking back at the list of South Dakota governors, another trend is clear. If you're elected by the people once, chances are they'll elect you back into office.

Current Governor Mike Rounds easily won reelection four years ago. In fact, the last governor who was elected into office and didn't get reelected at the end of the first term was Frank Farrar in 1971.

"I think the idea of knowing who the person is, that they're a sure thing, that they have a track record, that they have something you can look to and say this person has served in this position, associated with that position, it makes people more comfortable voting for them rather than voting for somebody they're not really sure about even if they've served in another office," Lerseth said.

South Dakota governors can only serve two terms, before they must take at least one term off. And political experts say that's a must because voters, in general, become quite comfortable with who they've elected.

"If we didn't have that we'd probably have a situation where someone could become so synonymous with the idea that they're the governor that they could basically run almost unopposed year after year after year, and that's a worry that you don't want to have someone in office that long," Lerseth said.

Which means next month's election could easily shape much more than the next four years for South Dakota. And political experts say with four more weeks of campaigning, there's no saying what could happen at the polls.

A fifth Democrat has served as governor. Harvey Wollman took office in 1978 when Richard Kneip resigned to become the ambassador to Singapore. Bill Janklow is the only South Dakota Governor to serve two consecutive terms, and then later return to office.

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