SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Incumbent U.S. Senator John Thune is headed to the November general election to seek a fourth term in Washington D.C.

The Associated Press called the race for Thune over opponents Bruce Whalen and Mark Mowry.

With the first 59 precincts reported at 9:15p.m., Thune led the race 73% (30,159), while Whalen had 20% (8,070) and Mowry (2,927).

The Murdo native was first elected to office in 1996 as South Dakota’s lone representative for the U.S. House where he served until 2002. Thune first ran for the Senate seat in 2002 but narrowly lost to Democrat Senator Tim Johnson. In 2004, Thune challenged Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle for his Senate seat and won.

KELOLAND News spoke with Sen. Thune via Zoom just minutes after the race was called.

“We’re very pleased, grateful… to the Republican voters of South Dakota for the opportunity to represent them in a fall campaign where we have an opportunity to take on the Democrat agenda in Washington,” Thune said.

Thune said he wants to stay in the fight for South Dakota and that strong leadership is needed in Washington to provide a check and balance.

Thune will now face Democrat opponent Brian Bengs and Libertarian opponent Tamara Lesnar in the November election.

“This is a democracy, and we will be out there, contesting, and trying to earn the vote of every South Dakotan,” Thune said.

Thune went on to say that his position in Washington D.C. gives him a voice among the leadership.

“If we can get the majority back to shape an agenda that I think is good for South Dakota, that’s good for jobs, that’s good for trying to get this inflation, these gas prices under control,” Thune said. “We need an energy policy; we need a border policy.”

Democratic opponent Brian Bengs said the fact that Thune is still in Washington D.C. is an issue when it comes to term limits.

“I pledge to have no more than two terms if I am elected,” Bengs said.

Thune also touched on gun control in an interview on Inside KELOLAND saying that it’s a tough issue, especially in South Dakota where gun ownership is high. When asked about AR-15’s in an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Thune said that AR-15’s are used in South Dakota to shoot prairie dogs.

Bengs said his stance on gun owners differs from Thune’s.

“My stance is that gun owners should be responsible; we should only allow responsible individuals to have firearms,” Bengs said.

Bengs also expressed support for background checks and that weapons with high rate and capacity of fire should be restricted.

Thune told KELOLAND News in the runup to the election that he’s hoping to use a fourth term in the Senate to make a difference on issues that affect South Dakotans such as agriculture, transportation, broadband, and Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Bengs said that if elected, his first focus in the Senate will be money and corruption among politicians.

“We cannot fix anything until we fix the influence of money in our politics,” Bengs said.

Another issue Thune highlighted in his interview was inflation and 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.”  

Bengs countered Thune’s opinions on gas prices and said that the issue dates back to the 1973 oil embargo and prices are driven by being sold globally.

“We can best address this by minimizing our reliance on a global commodity,” Bengs said.

The Senate candidates will face off on November 8, 2022.