PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — What a big difference a short time can make in South Dakota Republican politics.
Two years ago, District 24 Republicans nominated newcomers Will Mortenson of Pierre and Mike Weisgram of Fort Pierre for the two open seats in the South Dakota House of Representatives and turned Representative Mary Duvall into a state senator.
Now, the Republican incumbent who lost the 2020 primary is quietly helping push forward several more new faces in this year’s June 7 legislative primaries.
Former state lawmaker Jeff Monroe of Fort Pierre this time is backing the candidacy of House hopeful Mary Weinheimer of rural Pierre. Weinheimer in turn is chairing the campaign committee of Jim Mehlhaff of Pierre, who’s challenging five-term incumbent Duvall of Pierre for a Senate seat. The sixth candidate in the Republican primary next Tuesday is farmer and cowboy Jim Sheehan, who’s running for the House.
Mortenson is a lawyer from a family of Stanley County ranchers, Duvall is a former lobbyist for an agricultural group, Weisgram is a retired business owner, Weinheimer lives on a farm and is a daughter of the Morris Inc. construction family, Mehlhaff is a retired state government worker who served on the Pierre city commission, and Sheehan co-owns a farming operation north of Pierre.
Weinheimer and Mehlhaff, whose mailers portray them as more conservative than the incumbents on issues such as taxes and home schooling, have so far been out-spent and had to make loans to their committees. But they’re also getting a big outside boost from two national groups that very much want Duvall out of the Senate and want Weisgram or Mortenson (or both) out of the House.
The political action arm for the Convention of States organization has spent $91,975 campaigning against Duvall — and only $5,371 on behalf of Mehlhaff. That combined total is roughly what the six candidates together had spent on their own campaigns through mid-May.
Blue Weinheimer signs and red Mehlhaff signs are posted in pairs throughout much of the district in what seems like much greater frequency than signs for the three incumbents. It’s somewhat reminiscent of how a long-shot former state senator named Mike Rounds built a sense of momentum and upset two better-funded opponents for the Republican governor’s nomination in 2002 — but the tone of the Weinheimer and Mehlhaff campaigns is much more antagonistic. Proof of that difference is an anti-Duvall ad that recently started airing on local TV.
Meanwhile another national group, US Term Limits, so far has put in $6,813 on behalf of Weinheimer and $1,703 against Weisgram and Mortenson.
There are no other candidates for the three seats, so the primary contests will be decisive in a district that is heavily one sided for Republicans in voter registration.
Here are what the campaign-finance reports show (click on the name to open the report):
Senate (Republicans nominate one)
Mary Duvall — $7,037.07 beginning balance. $32,965.00 income. $25,368.29 expenses. $14,633.78 ending balance.
Jim Mehlhaff — $0 beginning balance. $12,539.00 income, including $4,000 loan from candidate and spouse. $12,286.01 expenses. $252.99 ending balance.
House (Republicans nominate two)
Will Mortenson — $31,112.20 beginning balance. $64,950 income. $24,310.42 expenses. $71,751.78 ending balance.
Mike Weisgram* — $6,575.18 beginning balance. $30,381.04 income. $13,362.31 expenses. $23,593.91 ending balance.
Mary Weinheimer* — $0 beginning balance. $22,734.00 income, including $5,000 loan from candidate. $13,006.56 expenses. $9,727.44 ending balance.
Jim Sheehan — $0 beginning balance. $12,525 income, including $10,000 contribution from candidate. $10,860.93 expenses. $1,664.07 ending balance.
Supporting documentation* — Weisgram, Weinheimer.