The 2022 race was just the second time in state history a South Dakota U.S. Senator faced more than one candidate in the primary

Few South Dakotans were likely surprised to see South Dakota Republican U.S. Senator John Thune easily win renomination on Tuesday night despite falling out of favor with former President Donald Trump for not challenging the 2020 Electoral College results.

Thune won by north of 50 percentage points over his closest competitor Bruce Whalen with approximately 72 percent of the GOP vote. Mark Mowry failed to reach double-digit support in third.

But while the outcome of the race may not be notable, the fact that two Republicans sought to challenge Thune in the first instance is.

Of the 27 times Republican and Democratic South Dakota U.S. Senators have run for another term, only twice has an incumbent faced more than one challenger, including Thune in 2022.

The only other instance came in 1932 when two-term Republican U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck also drew two primary opponents: South Dakota Chamber of Commerce president Harry Brownell of Sioux Falls and newspaperman Charles Hartsough.

Norbeck won 74.3 percent of the vote and defeated Brownell by 52.7 points – very similar to Thune’s performance on Tuesday.

South Dakota incumbents have faced no primary opposition in 17 cycles and just one opponent in eight cycles.

Democratic U.S. Senators have drawn a primary opponent just once – in 1980 when George McGovern was challenged by former college math professor Larry Schumaker.

No incumbent has lost in the primary, with Republican Jim Abdnor having the closest call when he defeated Governor Bill Janklow by 9.0 points in 1986.

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5 Comments

  1. Connor Cobb on June 8, 2022 at 10:50 pm

    Unrelated to this article, but VT senator Patrick Leahy will become the 3rd longest serving senator in us history in the next few days, surpassing Storm Thurmond. I was wondering if you think that Chuck Grassley and/or Mitch McConnell might surpass that record of 48 years of service in the years to come?
    I know that you already discussed how George Aiken and Patrick Leahy combined to nearly 84 years in this one seat and that’s impressive.
    Fun Fact: Leahy will also become the longest serving member of congress who did NOT serve in the us house, only the us senate.



    • John Chessant on June 11, 2022 at 4:03 pm

      It’s official, Leahy has become the third longest-serving U.S. senator in history: Through today (June 11) he has served 17,326 days, surpassing Strom Thurmond’s 467 + 16,858 = 17,325 days.

      To match Leahy’s 48 years of service is certainly in reach for Grassley, who is likely to be reelected this year and would need only to serve the full term. However, to surpass it he would need to run again in 2028, at age 95. [He’d be 101 years old if he were to complete that term as well, surpassing Thurmond’s age record of 100.]

      It’d be more difficult for McConnell, who would need to serve until 2033 just to match Leahy. It’s not common for party leaders to stick around in the Senate after leaving the top post: Going back almost 70 years, the only two such senators are Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), with all other party leaders either retiring (Knowland, Mansfield, Scott, Baker, Mitchell, Frist, Reid), losing reelection (McFarland, Daschle), resigning (LBJ, Dole), or dying (Taft Sr., Dirksen).

      Also unrelated to the article, a few interesting facts in New York’s House races after the shake-up caused by the redistricting saga:

      *Of course the most surprising development is the member-vs.-member matchup in NY-12, where Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler are both nearly 30-year incumbents and both chairs of influential standing committees. Are there other examples of chair-vs.-chair incumbent matchups? And does their combined seniority (60 years and 2 months, through January 2023) set a record?
      *The NY-12 intrigue pushed a huge field of candidates to neighboring NY-10 instead [technically, the field does include an incumbent, Rep. Mondaire Jones, who currently represents NY-17, but this is in spirit an open race]. One of the candidates is former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who served in the House from 1973 to 1981, was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in the three-way race in 1980, and then served in municipal offices until 1993. If she wins, she would return to the House after a 42-year break! The only comparable example that comes to mind is Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), who served from 1975 to 1981 and again from 2013 to 2019, for a ‘measly’ 32-year gap.
      *Upstate, we have two GOP candidates, Marc Molinaro in NY-19 and Carl Paladino in NY-23, who are former unsuccessful nominees for governor. [And with that, every GOP gubernatorial nominee since Pataki has attempted some form of redemption after their statewide loss: John Faso served in the House from NY-19 from 2017 to 2019, and Rob Astorino ran unsuccessfully for state senate in 2020. Pataki himself ran a lackluster presidential campaign in 2016.] It is not uncommon for losing nominees for governor to later be elected to the House: In recent years, we have Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Merrill Cook (I/R-Utah), Wes Watkins (D/I/R-Okla.), Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hi.), Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.), Bobby Jindal (R-La.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), and Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.). But has any state had two simultaneously?



      • John Chessant on June 11, 2022 at 4:21 pm

        On the last question: Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-La.) was elected to the House in 1990, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 1999, and continued being reelected to the House until his defeat in 2008 [he lost to Joseph Cao (R-La.) in the December general election, in a district Obama carried the previous month by nearly 50 points]. Thus, Louisiana had two former gubernatorial nominees in its House delegation from 2005 to 2008. Jefferson also served alongside 1995 nominee Cleo Fields from 1993 to 1997, before his run for governor. But this is simply a quirk of Louisiana’s off-cycle elections; in most states a House member cannot run for governor without giving their House seat.



        • Connor Cobb on June 18, 2022 at 8:06 pm

          Should Grassley serve 2 more complete terms, he’d be the longest senator ever and 4th longest member of congress. 1 more term beyond that would make him the longest member of congress EVER. However, in all honesty, I don’t think he’d make it that far.



        • Connor Cobb on June 18, 2022 at 8:10 pm

          Should Chuck Grassley serve 2 more complete terms, he’d be the the longest serving member of congress EVER. However, in all honesty, I don’t think he’d make it that far.