I had a conversation with one of South Dakota’s politicos a while back pointing out that state politics have a major, major election cycle coming – one which could dwarf the election we just had. And just for fun I charted out the road we’re traveling down in the lead up to 2026, as we’re in for a few relatively quiet years in South Dakota politics followed by one of the biggest election donnybrooks we’ve seen in South Dakota. (This chart assumes there will be no major changes in incumbents):
The 2020 Election is the first stop in our path to the great convergence. Given the activity occurring now, there’s little to make anyone believe there will be major changes, and the incumbent statewide officeholders should return to office handily, since the Democrat party stands disorganized, and out of money. Mike Rounds and Dusty Johnson, along with Public Utilities Commissioner Gary Hansen should all be re-elected handily.
Given the number of incumbents in office, 2022 will also likely bring a great number of incumbents returning to office. 7 incumbents will up for election, with the only available seat being the Office of School & Public Lands.. (which I hear at least 1-2 are already considering).
Led by US Senator John Thune, Governor Kristi Noem, and most likely Congressman Dusty Johnson, at the top of the ticket, I predict a very organized and coordinated effort for the election, and it will be running on all cylinders.
Moving forward, 2024 will be comparatively sleepy, if not downright boring. The Presidential races that year will be lively for those who seek to succeed President Trump, after his election to his second term. But that just leaves us a Congressional race, with Dusty Johnson, assuming his re-election, and Kristie Fiegen in the Public Utilities Commission. Just two statewide races besides President, so watch for activity to be quieter.
And then we hit 2026 – the time of great upheaval! That elections will start with a minimum of five open seats due to term limits, and the sky is the limit. At that time Senator Mike Rounds will be the key as to whether things really open up. If he’s spy for continuing in office, it locks up the top of the ticket. But if he decides to call it quits, the math will be wildly recalculated, and the state’s entire political structure will descend into madness.
You could have Governor Kristi Noem challenging Congressman Dusty Johnson for US Senate, at a time when Secretary of State Steve Barnett and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg are fighting in a race for Governor. And all happening while State Senator Jordan Youngberg is announcing for the Congressional seat against Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken.
With it being eight years from now, we could see people running who have yet to place their name in consideration for the State Legislature. 2026 could be an electoral fight whose likes many of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes.
As South Dakota politicians start to outline their long-term goals, 2026 is going to play more and more into their planning calendars as they look for the best opportunities for advancement. Politics is as much about timing as it is anything else. And the opportunities that will be available eight years from now offer the greatest chance for those willing to roll the dice.
Stay tuned. And keep an eye on the crystal ball.