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PIERRE, S.D. – Kristi Noem, the incumbent Republican governor of South Dakota, has won the GOP primary over Steve Haugaard, the former Speaker of the state House, according to The Associated Press.
Since the pandemic, Noem’s hands-off approach to COVID-19 has elevated her national profile and heightened her approval within the state.
She’s known for her conservative politics on guns, abortion, taxes and other social issues and is a close ally of former President Donald Trump. She even hosted a 4th of July fireworks show at Mount Rushmore with him in 2020 and received his endorsement for governor earlier this year.
Noem said she’s thankful for getting the nomination again.
“And now, with your support, we’re going to have the chance to go to a November election and make sure that we’re pushing back on Joe Biden’s America and what he’s doing to this country,” Noem said at an election watch party in Sioux Falls.
Noem’s record and incumbency served her well. Heading into Tuesday, 61% of likely Republican voters said they preferred Noem, according to a recent poll from South Dakota State University.
“We’ve got an incumbent governor who is extremely popular within her own party,” says Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D.
Her confidence in the race showed throughout the campaign. She hardly engaged with Haugaard during the primary; the two candidates never debated. She also outraised and outspent her opponent.
Still, Haugaard said he thought he saw an opening in the race. In the 2018 primary for governor, Noem narrowly defeated Republican Marty Jackley. And in the general election, she won 51% of the vote to Democrat Bille Sutton’s 48%.
Tuesday, Republican voters overwhelmingly nominated her for the general election. Noem will face House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, a Democrat from Sioux Falls then. Libertarian Tracey Quint is also running for governor.
South Dakota Trump adversary
In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent John Thune also handily won his primary Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. Thune, the majority whip, is viewed as next to succeed U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in senate leadership.
Thune’s race was called twenty minutes after the polls closed.
“I want to thank Republicans in South Dakota for supporting my Senate candidacy,” Thune says. “I look forward to continue putting South Dakota’s interests on the national agenda and stopping Biden’s radical, left-wing crusade.”
During Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Thune said the efforts were “going down like a shot dog.”
Trump lashed out at Thune on Twitter: “RINO John Thune, ‘Mitch’s boy’, should just let it play out. South Dakota doesn’t like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!”
It was speculated that Thune was ready to retire from politics but announced his bid for reelection in January. After sailing to victory in the Republican primary, Thune will face Democrat Brian Bengs in November. The race isn’t predicted to be competitive, with Thune as the likely winner.