Is this the face of an accidental legislator?
In 2014, Democrat Candidate Steve Stenson ran for the State Legislature as the odd Democrat out in a three way contest for State Representative. And the proceeded to get his tail kicked pretty hard, receiving nearly 2000 votes fewer than the next close competitor, Jeff Partridge. The vote in the contest was Dan Dryden – 5233, Jeff Partridge – 4533, and Steve Stenson – 2735.
Fast forward an election, and with the unfortunate passing of popular State Representative Dan Dryden, Stenson has suddenly been advanced from little more than a placeholder into a competitive race.
This kind of campaign situation is rare, but it does happen. A number of years back, I can recall that a State Democrat who was not anticipated to win anyway passed away in the midst of a State Legislative race, far too too late for Democrats to replace him. Except this time, this is a far, far different situation. Dryden ran extremely strong in his district, and would have been a shoe in. Yet, passing away after the deadline to replace him on the ballot has taken the candidates in this district, and jumbled the entire race around.
We now have a contest between Stenson, & Senator Craig Tieszen, but Dryden will remain on the ballot as a candidate, and is able to be elected to the office. Stenson’s job is now not just to raise his name ID, but to convince people he would be a better representative than a well known candidate who just happened to pass away, without being crass about it.
Representative Dryden’s passing just moved this race from the solid Republican column into a toss up race, where we can expect the Democrat party to spend significant resources. It literally may become their #1 targeted house race in the state, and represents a rare opportunity for them to gain ground in Rapid City. And they won’t spare any expense.
In the case that Dryden wins election over Stenson, given the fact that the seat is in effect vacant by his passing, Governor Dennis Daugaard would appoint a replacement to serve in the office. As a result, Republicans have a vested interest in the seat remaining Republican, and will likely take over efforts for the Dryden campaign.
Stenson’s goal in the race has now shifted from a Sisyphean battle to convince people he was worth considering in the contest against his opponents to now trying to convince people he’s better than “any” Republican whom the Governor may appoint. Could it give Stenson the opportunity to go to Pierre as the accidental legislator?
Maybe. But that still doesn’t prevent him from having to earn it.