PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — There was plenty of money flowing to Republican candidates for the South Dakota Legislature from two political action committees that took opposite sides in Tuesday’s primary contests.
In one corner was the Schoenbeck for Senate PAC overseen by Senator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown. His group of candidates posted a record of roughly 18 wins and 20 losses, give or take.
In the other corner was the Liberty Tree PAC coordinated by Representative Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish. His group of candidates posted a record of roughly 19 wins and 21 losses, give or take.
And somehow both committees gave money to Tyler Tordsen of Sioux Falls, who placed second and won a House nomination in District 12.
One of the national-money players in the legislative contests was the Convention of States. They swung hard with several hundred thousand dollars of TV ads and negative postcards against four state Senate candidates: incumbents Schoenbeck, Mary Duvall of Pierre and David Johnson of Rapid City, and Representative Tim Reed of Brookings.
On Tuesday, they managed to knock out Duvall, who lost to former Pierre city commission member Jim Mehlhaff. And they cut deeply into Schoenbeck’s political comfort, as he won 59-41% against current Watertown city council member Colin Paulsen.
Constitutional Amendment C went down in flames. Its 67-33% rejection Tuesday was a clear defeat for Schoenbeck and Representative Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids,, who maneuvered to get enough Republican support in the Legislature to put it on the primary ballot, rather than the general election ballot. And it was a beat-down for Americans For Prosperity, which paid for hundreds of thousands of dollars of mailers in support of C.
It was likewise a defeat for the South Dakota Republican Party chairman Dan Lederaman and his state central committee, whose members had formally endorsed C. And it was a clear victory for the South Dakota Democratic Party’s leaders and the coalition of opponents, who urged a “no” vote and spent lots of money on the “anti” ads.
Republican Governor Kristi Noem perhaps sent a signal that C was in trouble when she recently said she planned to vote for it but wasn’t going to endorse it.
Speaking of Noem, her sweeping 76-24% victory over Republican challenger Steve Haugaard showed that a sitting governor can indeed be more powerful than a former House speaker who just never recovered from self-inflicted wounds, such as 1) trying to ban a respected lobbyist from the House floor three years ago and 2) igniting female outrage with some unusual comments this year.
The governor also shared some of her personal magic with U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson when they campaigned together on Saturday knocking on doors in Sioux Falls. It likely didn’t hurt either that Johnson’s Republican primary challenger was state Rep. Taffy Howard of Rapid City, who had gone after Noem last year.
Nonetheless, Howard made Johnson do something unusual, for him, as he got down in the dirt with Howard and was still calling the conservative “a liberal” up to election day. Of the three statewide Republican primaries, the Johnson-Howard contest wound up the closest at 59-41%.