SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sen. John Thune, challengers Bruce Whalen and Mark Mowry are the three candidates registered Republican voters will choose as the party’s candidate for U.S. Senate. 

The winner of the primary, set for Tuesday, June 7, will face Democrat nominee Brian Bengs in the general election. 

Thune, Whalen and Mowry shared their thoughts and beliefs during 6-minute conversations with KELOLAND’s Don Jorgensen. The candidates also discussed their goals and addressed issues like gun control, abortion, inflation and the current state of politics.   

You can watch the full discussion from this weekend’s Inside KELOLAND in the player above. 

Thune, the longest-active serving politician in South Dakota and current Senate Republican Whip, highlighted his position of power in Congress. The Murdo native’s decision to seek a fourth six-year term in the Senate was the topic of nationwide speculation leading up to his reelection announcement in January. 

Whalen also has history in South Dakota politics. In 2006, Whalen was the Republican nominee challenging incumbent Democrat Stephanie Herseth for South Dakota’s lone U.S. House seat. Whalen lost the race 69 percent to 29 percent but pointed out he also helped on Thune’s first winning Senate campaign in 2004. 

Mowry grew up on a commercial cattle ranch south of Presho and now lives in Spearfish. The self-described entrepreneur, musician, writer and educator portrayed himself as “a new voice” for South Dakota. 

“I think four terms for John Thune more or less says it all,” Mowry said. “There’s no provision for career politicians in our U.S. Constitution. I think there’s supposed to be a rollover and it’s time to roll over.” 

This week, Thune proudly talked about his record and highlighted himself as someone who stands up against Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) 

“I have an opportunity to continue making a difference on issues that impact South Dakota on a daily basis. Whether that’s agriculture, transportation, broadband, Ellsworth Air Force Base – issues like that,” Thune said. “The ability to be able to impact those issues is the reason I want to lace them up and stay in the game.” 

Whalen described how he grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation until he was 14. When he moved back, Whalen said he experienced culture shock returning to Pine Ridge. 

“I found out that there was widespread socialism, Marxism, fascism and communism,” Whalen said. “Not because the people raised their hand for it, but because that’s what the federal government said, ‘This is what’s best for you.’”  

A submitted viewer question from Dennis directly asked Thune “if he still feels the same way about career politicians as he did when he was running in his first congressional race and promises that he would never become a career politician?” 

Thune responded saying he votes for term limits every chance he gets. He pointed to remaining a force against Schumer and Pelosi. 

“Conservatives in South Dakota have never had somebody in my position at the table,” Thune said. “If we ever get to the point in this country where we’re willing to accept that there should be term limits for all people, members of Congress, believe me, I’ll be in full throat support of that. Until that happens, South Dakota has to make sure that we have somebody in there punching for us.” 

Gun control 

Thune said gun control is a tough issue and noted South Dakota’s high population per capita of gun owners. 

“The political left wants to focus on the guns,” Thune said. “I think if there is anything that can be done, particularly with respect to school shootings, there’s a lot of conversation around how do we better harden schools.” 

Thune suggested using COVID funds to harden schools with school resource officers or changes in construction of schools. He said he thinks the best solutions will come at the state level. 

“They’re doing things with respect to age; they’re doing things with respect to red flag (laws),” Thune said. “Those things are probably better accomplished on the state level than coming up with what could very well be an overreaching federal solution.” 

Mowry said he’s a pro Second Amendment candidate and the Constitution shouldn’t be tweaked. He pointed to mental health and the well being of people in society. 

“We’re sending signals to our young people. Things like there being more than two genders,” Mowry said. “Anyone that really looks at that can see that there are just two genders. When young people look up to older people, they’re getting this message that there’s these kinds of messages.”

Inflation 

On the issue of inflation, all three candidates pointed to stopping spending. 

Thune blamed Democrats in Congress and warned of further spending bills. 

“The textbook definition of inflation is too many dollars chasing too few goods. That’s what we’ve seen,” Thune said. “They want to double down on that. They want to spend another $5 trillion. So far, we’ve been successful in stopping that.” 

Thune said the country needs a coherent energy policy. 

“So much of inflation is really about gas prices. It’s baked into everything that you buy,” Thune said. “The cost of everything is going up because the cost of energy is going up. This administration has no energy policy.”  

Whalen pointed to rooting out corruption and getting control of finances. 

“Let’s operate to the scope of work that we have and start getting rid of departments that are unnecessary and unconstitutional in our government,” Whalen said. “What I’m saying is shut off the printing presses. In this war over in Ukraine, let’s pull back that 40 billion bucks.” 

Mowry said problems like inflation come from a “globalist and elitist agenda.” 

“We’re so heavily invested outside of our own interest,” Mowry said. “We’ve developed basically what I call an artificial economy. When we have $30.4 trillion in debt and yet $40 billion has been extended to Ukraine for humanitarian aid. It’s kind of a cavalier attitude about money.” 

Mowry added he’s not a big believer in wind and solar energy and believes the Earth has enough fossil fuels. 

“As long as we have any type of resource, we should use it. And I have no fear of running out,” Mowry said. “We have to use those things that are practical and available to us.” 

Abortion

Thune said he’d like to see the debate over abortion move back to individual states and not by the nine judges on the U.S. Supreme Court and other elected and appointed judges. 

“It seems to me at least, if this draft opinion ends up being the final opinion that’s what will happen,” Thune said. “I suspect we’ll have a pretty strong law. There are some states around the country where that may not be the case. But it seems to me at least that’s going to be a better approach long term in terms of trying to address a very controversial, contentious issue that’s been top of mind for a lot of Americans now for the past 50 years.” 

Whalen said he doesn’t believe in any exceptions to abortion and said people shouldn’t argue against God. 

“The only question on the civic side of this asked by the Supreme Court was when does life begin?” Whalen said. “Life begins at the point of conception and we need to keep it that way.” 

Final thoughts

John Thune: It’s an important election year. I hope we get the majority back we need, to check and balance against a very radical, extreme Biden Administration agenda. That’s why the race here in South Dakota and Senate races all across this country are so important. 

Bruce Whalen: I want to help John Thune by rescuing him from the DC swamp. I think that he’s been there long enough. I lost confidence in him in his fourth year of his first term. Coincidentally, a lot of the people that helped him get elected back in 2004, we meet each other on the campaign trail, and we feel the same way. Thanks John, for helping us out this far, but we’ll take it from here.

Mark Mowry: I feel really good about this campaign. I’ve met a lot of people. I believe that people are ready for a change. I’ve talked to many South Dakotans. I want to be your United States Senator because I’m called to do this. So help me God, I will.