South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has elevated her national prominence through a hands-off approach to pandemic restrictions, won the Republican primary Tuesday.
Newsmax's election partner Decision Desk HQ called the races for Noem and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., shortly after the polls closed at 9:09 p.m. ET. Get the latest election returns from Decision Desk HQ here.
The first-term governor's primary victory against former South Dakota House Speaker Steve Haugaard gives her a commanding advantage as she seeks another term in November against Democrat state Rep. Jamie Smith, who did not face a primary challenger.
In her speech at an election night party, Noem did not even mention her Democrat gubernatorial challenger's name. Instead, she told the crowd, "we're going to have the chance to go into a November election and make sure we're pushing back on Joe Biden's America."
She then led them in booing and jeering the president's policies as she drove a comparison between Biden and former President Donald Trump, whose attention she has courted.
"Today, I'm on defense," she said. "Every time I turn around I'm fighting off Joe Biden and the damage he's doing to the state of South Dakota."
Noem has used this election fundraising cycle to collect a record amount of money for a South Dakota gubernatorial candidate — bringing in more than $15 million from a series of fundraisers all over the country.
"She was one of the only governors who stood firm in not using the pandemic to increase government intrusions in our lives," said Kerry Larson, a Republican voter from Sioux Falls. "It says a lot about her and how she will govern under pressure."
But Noem has also struggled to manage Statehouse politics at times, publicly clashing with Republican legislators with whom she disagrees.
Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, also won his primary against two challengers who joined the race after Thune drew Trump's ire. Trump speculated the senator's career was "over" after he made public statements dismissing the former president's allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Neither of the challengers was well-funded or well-known in the state, and in a sign that Thune was positioned for victory, Trump steered clear of South Dakota.
Thune is a longtime fixture as the state GOP's elder statesman, and if he wins reelection to a fourth term, he is a likely pick to succeed Mitch McConnell as Senate Republican leader. He will face Democrat Brian Bengs, an Air Force veteran and college professor, in November's general election.
Thune alluded to his prominence in Washington in a statement celebrating the primary win, saying he would "continue putting South Dakota's interests on the national agenda" and labeling Biden's agenda as a "radical, left-wing crusade."
Thune's status in Washington factored into Republican Sandra Pay's vote, saying it would be "crazy" to vote out someone with Thune's Senate leadership post.
"He's got power," she said.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., also overcame a primary challenge from state lawmaker Taffy Howard for the state's lone House spot. The $300,000 her campaign has raised has been dwarfed by Johnson's $1.8 million, but a number of national political action committees spent money in the race as it began to look competitive.
The congressman has taken a measured approach on most issues and has touted his work with a bipartisan group of lawmakers called the Problem Solvers Caucus. Howard has tried to challenge him from the right.
That intraparty conflict has been fought across a slate of legislative primary races where Republicans have launched attack ads against each other. Establishment Republicans are trying to weed out a group of contrarian lawmakers who have pushed the Legislature further right.
However, Republican voter Kim McKoy said Tuesday one thing was on her mind as she cast her vote: "Economy, economy, economy."
She mostly voted against incumbents.
"I listen to these people talk and I'm like, 'Do you care that people are struggling?' I just don't think they do," she said. "I think they care about their causes and they've lost their minds."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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