Dozens of GOP delegates descend on South Dakota convention

WATERTOWN — A wave of Republican delegates swamped the party convention on Saturday as they chose constitutional officers who will run in November’s general election.

Turnout and results underscored a fractured party and a wave of new GOP activists. But it also showed energy and motivation to participate ahead of this year’s general election.

“I’m sure we’ve had a record number of new arrivals here,” said congress president Ried Holien.

The results in three races underscored the division among the party’s staunchest supporters, and Holien acknowledged that towards the end of Saturday’s grueling nominating session.

“We are a family of Republicans. Families are fighting,” said Holien, who is also the mayor of Watertown. Holien and other party officials have called for unity as the general election nears, and he made the crowd laugh when he joked that he was fighting with his brother who is not a RINO. – Republican in name only.

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The 687 delegates who turned up Saturday was a record for modern conventions, officials said. They were joined by more than 100 other people who observed the process.

Rapid City’s Monae Johnson beat outgoing Secretary of State Steve Barnett in a blowout, winning 61% to 39%. A former employee of the secretary of state’s office, Johnson campaigned vigorously by exploiting Republican fears about the security and integrity of the election. Those fears were stoked in the 2020 presidential election in which Democrats saw massive turnouts in key states that tipped turnout in favor of President Biden.

After her victory was announced, Johnson took the stage to thunderous applause.

“It’s your race. You’re behind me,” she said.

“Election integrity,” she added, “is all in our hearts and minds.”

The result was a blow to establishment Republicans.

The other two results were another warning. Former Attorney General Marty Jackley beat David Natvig 53% to 47%. The result was close, given that Jackley had already served 10 years as attorney general and Natvig, the director of the Criminal Investigations Division, had only recently entered the race.

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Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden won the nomination for a second term. But the result was something of a slap in the face for Governor Kristi Noem, who had chosen Rhoden before her first term. Unlike some states, where governors can nominate their running mates, party conventions nominate lieutenant government candidates.

Traditionally, conventions have voted overwhelmingly to support the gubernatorial nominee. But on Friday, near the filing deadline, State Rep. Steve Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican and former House Speaker, filed a notice saying he would run for the seat.

The decision was notable as Noem had just beaten Haugaard in the June 7 primary election by 76% of the vote.

Haugaard supporters framed his candidacy as a way to mend party factions. Noem gave one of Rhoden’s nomination speeches.

In the end, Rhoden won 56% to 44%, a result that underscored the split in the party.

Jackley addressed the division in his victory speech.

“At the end of the day, we are Republicans and we unite,” he said. “Life Matters, The Second Amendment Matters, Pushing Washington’s Questions.”

Several other candidates ran unopposed. Josh Haeder was appointed for a second term as Treasurer, Rich Sattgast for a second term as Auditor, Chris Nelson for a third term on the Public Utilities Commission, and Brock Greenfield for a first term as Commissioner of Schools and Public Lands.

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Democrats will meet next month to nominate their candidates for those positions. Libertarians will also have candidates.

This year’s GOP convention, which ran Thursday through Saturday, brought in crowds that at times exceeded attendance estimates. The large number of delegates overwhelmed meal planning, forcing organizers to find alternate seating and, in one lunch, order 20 pizzas to accommodate the number.

Despite differences over the direction of the party, the factions were united on Friday when word emerged that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the Roe v. Wade, returning abortion policy to the states. For many Republicans, abortion had been an entry point into their political activism.

Senator John Thune, who spoke on Friday, told a standing crowd that a huge shift in policy had taken place from the time he boarded a plane that morning in Washington, D.C. upon his arrival in South Dakota.

“What an epic day,” he said to applause.

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