There are 35 legislative districts in South Dakota. In 31 of them, there are more Republicans than Democrats registered, according to the March 3 reports from county auditors. In that sense, the Democratic Party with seven current senators is over-performing.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were four Democratic candidates without opponents for Senate seats. Those candidates are incumbents Jason Frerichs of Wilmot in District 1, Billie Sutton of Burke in District 21 and Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge in 27, along with Rep. Jim Peterson of Revillo who didn’t have a challenger yet in District 4.
The four districts where Democrats out-number Republicans are 1, 15, 26 and 27. No candidate had filed for Senate in District 15 as of Tuesday afternoon. The incumbent is Democrat Angie Buhl O’Donnell of Sioux Falls. The filing deadline was Tuesday at 5 p.m. CDT, but petitions with a postmark before the deadline could be accepted by registered U.S. mail. Perhaps a set of District 15 petitions will arrive by mail today or Thursday at the secretary of state office.
District 26 has Democratic Rep. Troy Heinert of Mission vs. Republican former Sen. John Koskan of Wood competing for the Senate seat. Stepping aside is Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, whose wife is now the school superintendent at Lake Andes. Lucas defeated the previous Republican incumbent, Kent Juhnke of Vivian, in 2012. Lucas received 4,405 votes to Juhnke’s 3,909. Lucas won in Todd, Mellette and Buffalo counties, while Juhnke won in Brule, Jones and Lyman. The March voter-registration numbers show the district with 4,280 Republicans, 6,875 Democrats, 1,615 independents and a few handfuls of other registrations.
In District 2, Democratic Sen. Chuck Welke of Warner will have a strong opponent in Republican Rep. Brock Greenfield of Clark. The registration numbers are 7,266 Republicans, 5,788 Democrats and 2,149 independents.
In District 3, Republican Sen. Al Novstrup of Aberdeen is running for the House so that term-limited Republican Rep. David Novstrup of Aberdeen can run for the Senate. They are father and son. Democrats actually have two candidates running in this district and will have a June primary. The registration numbers are 6,372 Republicans, 5,839 Democrats and 2,360 independents. The two Democratic candidates are Mark Remily of Aberdeen and Angelia Schultz of Aberdeen.
The Peterson candidacy in District 4 is to replace Republican Sen. Tim Begalka of Clear Lake, who isn’t seeking re-election. The registrations are 6,202 Republicans, 5,190 Democrats and 3,210 independents.
Democrats didn’t have candidates as of Tuesday afternoon for Senate seats in districts 5, 6, 10, 14, 20, 23, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34 and 35. All are currently held by Republicans.
Democrats see chances to pick up Senate seats in several districts:
Democratic Rep. Scott Parsley of Madison is challenging Republican Sen. Scott Jones of Flandreau in District 8, where registration is 6,801 Republicans, 6,299 Democrats and 2,772 independents.
The District 9 contest is worth watching as Republican Sen. Deb Peters of Hartford faces Democratic challenger Sheryl Knutson of Sioux Falls; the latest numbers show 5,598 Republicans, 5,483 Democrats and 3,488 independents.
In District 16, Republican Sen. Dan Lederman of Dakota Dunes is opposed by Democratic challenger Ann Tornberg of Beresford. Tornberg finished in third place, 124 votes behind Republican Rep. Patty Miller (since resigned), in the 2012 four-candidate race for the districts’ two House seats. The registration is 7,342 Republicans, 4,612 Democrats and 3,487 independents.
The District 17 seat will be open as Democratic Sen. Tom Jones of Viborg isn’t seeking re-election. The Senate candidates are Republican Arthur Rusch of Vermillion, who is a retired circuit judge, and Democrat Michelle Maloney of Vermillion. The registration is 5,394 Republicans, 4,742 Democrats and 2,642 independents.
In District 18, House Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton is running for the Senate, while his sister-in-law, Republican Sen. Jean Hunhoff of Yankton, is term-limited and running for the House. There are two Republicans filed as Senate candidates, Thomas Bixler of Yankton and Matt Stone of Yankton, and they will have a June primary. The registration is 5,819 Republicans, 4,702 Democrats and 2,645 independents, so this could be a difficult switch.
Then there’s District 33, where Republican Sen. Phil Jensen of Rapid City has a primary opponent and a general election opponent. Republican David Johnson of Rapid City filed. So did Democrat Haven Stuck of Rapid City. The registration is 7,669 Republicans, 3,921 Democrats and 3,647 independents.
In District 24 Republican Sen. Jeff Monroe of Pierre has a similar situation, as Republican former Rep. Tad Perry of Fort Pierre challenges Monroe in a rematch of their 2012 primary, while Democrat Ruth Rehn of Pierre awaits the winner. (Footnote to those who scoff about a Democrat running and winning from the Pierre district: It was the 1988 victory by Democratic challenger Jacqueline Kelley of Pierre over Republican Sen. Homer Harding of Pierre that opened the way two years later for a Republican named Mike Rounds to be elected to the Senate…)
Democrats also have challengers in District 7, where Jay Vanduch of Brookings is taking on Republican Sen. Larry Tidemann of Brookings; District 11, where Tom Cool of Sioux Falls is opposing Republican Sen. David Omdahl of Sioux Falls; District 12, where Jim Sanden of Sioux Falls is challenging Republican Sen. Blake Curd of Sioux Falls; District 13, where Reynold Nesiba of Sioux Falls is opposing Republican Sen. Phyllis Heineman of Sioux Falls; District 22, where Darrel Raschke of Huron is taking on Republican Sen. Jim White of Huron; and District 25 where Bill Laird of Sioux Falls challenges Republican Sen. Tim Rave of Baltic. All of these districts have at least 600 to 2000 more Republicans than Democrats registered.
In District 28, where Republican Sen. Ryan Maher is term-limited, the Senate candidates are Republican Rep. Betty Olson of Prairie City and Democrat Oren Lesmeister of Parade. Registration is 6,838 Republicans, 5,912 Democrats and 2,316 independents. Maher was elected as a Democrat from this district in 2006 and 2008 and as a Republican in 2010 and 2012.
In the Black Hills, with the exception of the Haven candidacy,Democrats aren’t running for Senate seats. Those districts, 29 through 35, all have at least 2,000 more Republicans than Democrats.