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Many open seats but only one primary challenge in South Dakota state senate elections

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August 11, 2010

By Andy Marshall

More than one third of incumbent South Dakota senators did not file to run for [South Dakota House of Representatives elections, 2010|re-election]], according to a Ballotpedia analysis. Although 4 senators were ineligible to seek re-election due to South Dakota's term limits,[1] 9 eligible incumbents are not seeking re-election, including 4 who chose to pursue statewide office instead. Democrats Scott Heidepriem, Ben Nesselhuf, and Julie Bartling won their party's nominations for governor, secretary of state, and state auditor, respectively. Republican Gordon Howie lost in the June 8 Republican primary for governor, as did term-limited Senate Majority Leader David Knudson. In total, 13 of the 35 seats (37.14%) in the South Dakota State Senate are open.

According to the data, states with term limits have a much higher rate of turnover than non-term limited states. Nationwide, 18 percent of seats are considered open -- where there is no incumbent running for re-election. But in states with term limits, that number jumps to 48.51 percent. In states without term limits, only 13.78 percent of seats are open.

Only one of the 22 state senators (4.55%) seeking re-election faced opposition in June 8 primary. That is significantly below the equivalent nationwide statistic that 21.44% of all incumbent state legislators running for re-election faced primary challenges. In the lone contested South Dakota primary featuring a state senator running for re-election, challenger Angie Buhl defeated incumbent Kathleen Miles for the Democratic nomination in District 15.

Republicans currently control the state senate with 21 members, compared to 14 Democrats.

Party As of February 2015
     Democratic Party 8
     Republican Party 27
Total 35

Politifact staff writer Louis Jacobson, handicapping the 2010 state legislative elections for Governing, rates the South Dakota Senate as safely Republican.[2]

In spite of their minority status, the Democrats are actually defending slightly more open seats than the Republicans by a margin of 7 to 6. Republicans hold a major advantage in terms of unchallenged incumbents in the November 2 election, with 6 Republican incumbents facing no primary or general election challengers. Only Jim Hundstad among the Democratic incumbents has an equally unobstructed path to victory. So, 7 incumbent senators of the 22 incumbents seeking re-election (31.82%) face neither primary nor general election opponents, higher than the nationwide rate of 24.86%.

Partisan incumbents

Across the country, more Democrat incumbents are not running for re-election than Republicans. Additionally, more Democrats are facing primary opposition.

Category Democrats in SD Senate Republicans in SD Senate Democrats nationwide Republicans nationwide
Incumbent seats open 7 6 TBD TBD
Incumbents facing primary 1 0 TBD TBD
Incumbents running unopposed in primary and general 1 6 TBD TBD

See also