SIOUX CITY | In one year, South Dakota voters will elect a new governor.
Twelve months out, there are five announced candidates, one Democrat and four Republicans. Political scientists assessing the race said it will likely come down to who wins the Republican primary election in June ahead of the November general election.
Professors David Wiltse of South Dakota State University and Julia Hellwege of the University of South Dakota said the race will boil down to two Republicans -- U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.
"South Dakota is becoming such a monolithically Republican state, it would take a near meltdown of a Republican candidate or campaign in order for (a Democrat to win)," Wiltse said.
Noem, 45, a former state legislator, was first elected to the sole South Dakota congressional position in 2010. Jackley, 47, has been the state's attorney general since 2009, when he was appointed to a vacancy and then won two elections.
"That is certainly the common wisdom, and I see no reason why it won’t shake down to those two," Wiltse said.
The other Republican candidates are Lora Hubbel, 59, of Sioux Falls, a former state representative and Minnehaha County Republican Party chairwoman, and Terry LaFleur, 62, an attorney.
The sole Democratic candidate is Billie Sutton, 33, a state senator from Burke, who is the Senate Minority Leader. As they have since 2013 for major statewide or federal elections, some South Dakota Democrats are also hoping Brendan Johnson, a former U.S. Attorney for South Dakota and son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, will run for office.
The governor position is coming open because Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, won terms in 2010 and 2014, but can't run again due to the state's term limits law.
While voter unease over some of President Donald Trump's policies, could open a door for Democrats in some states, that likely won't be a factor in South Dakota, Wiltse said.
"Trump’s doing well in South Dakota, and I don’t see his (national) unpopularity being a real drag on the eventual Republican nominee for governor. Even if it gets Watergate-bad for Trump, I don’t think it would cost the election for Republicans in this state, though it very likely will in other marginal states," Wiltse said.
Currently, there are 247,176 South Dakotans registered to vote as Republicans, 161,961 Democrats and 121,531 independents. That equates to 46 percent for Republicans, Hellwege said, so Democrats enter any race an underdog.
Wiltse said he thinks Noem has the upper hand one year out, since she can point to constituent help and has more campaign funds, plus the attorney general position is "not as prominent an office to build a record upon."
Hellwege said Noem is well-known in South Dakota, but the fact that she spends much of her time outside of the state could create an opening for Jackley to campaign hard across the state's counties.
"As a largely rural state, many people here feel a distance both geographically and politically from D.C., and Noem will need to respond to constituents who feel like she has become disconnected from the state and the state’s issues, in favor of dealing with national issues," Hellwege said.
The website for Sutton, the sole Democrat, says he battled "corporate welfare that only benefits those who need it the least. He helped create a bipartisan economic development plan that focuses on better jobs, affordable housing, transparency and education as an investment. He fought for scholarships for low-income families."
Hellwege said Sutton is "relatively competitive" and has better visibility than the recent slate of Democratic candidates.
"Sutton has done well to market himself as a moderate South Dakotan Democrat, focusing on values that resonate well with much of the state like the economy, agriculture and rural communities, as opposed to the more social progressive issues we might hear about on the national stage," Hellwege said.
Hubbel ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014, losing with only 19 percent in the Republican primary, before Daugaard coasted to a second victory in the general election. Hubbel's website says she wants to beat back the negative effects of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and "(fight) the pagan concepts in Common Core education."
LaFleur says he wants to support the state's farmers and ranchers, defend Second Amendment gun rights and end the sales tax on groceries.
Hellwege has legislative experience, but is little known outside Sioux Falls. The professor said, "LaFleur is largely unknown, he lacks in political experience, political capital, finance and campaign structure."