Before the 2018 elections, there was only one state legislative chamber in the country that had a single party control 100% of the seats: the Hawaii Senate, where Democrats held 25 out of 25 seats. While impressive, the statistic would not endure; Republicans flipped a seat during a special election in November of 2018. No one party has gained control of 100% of the seats in any state legislative chamber in the four years since.
That may change this year in South Dakota, where all three of the seats Democrats hold are at a potential risk of flipping. Republicans need only defend three of their seats; the rest are either uncompetitive or uncontested.
Notably, there’s a highly competitive seat in which Republicans are playing defense– albeit not against a Democrat. That seat is District 1 in the northeast part of the state, where Republican incumbent Michael Rohl is in a rematch against former incumbent Susan Wismer. Wismer, who was a Democrat until the time of her defeat in 2020, is running as an Independent this time. If she can gain a favorable standing without the “Democratic” label haunting her image, this rural district may spell out an upset for Republicans.
The district turned six points bluer due to redistricting on the presidential level, and with Wismer outperforming Biden by 26 points in 2020, she’s got a decent shot at flipping the seat. Right now, though, we’ve got it as Lean Republican.
The seat most likely to flip to the Republicans is, without question, District 26. Democrat Troy Heinert is not seeking re-election in this Native-American-majority district. Heinert’s district went to Trump by 7 points, and as an open seat in a Republican-friendly environment, that’s going to be a tough lift for Democrats to hold. State Representative Shawn Bordeaux is the Democratic nominee for this seat and faces Republican nominee Joel Koskan, a farmer from Mellette County, which is in Bordeaux’s State House district.
The other Native-American-majority district in the South Dakota Senate is also a competitive seat that Republicans might flip into their column. Two-term incumbent Democrat Red Dawn Foster is running for re-election against Republican David Jones. Foster did 2 points better than Biden in 2020 and is running in a district that Biden won by 6 points, she’s moderately favored for re-election with a Lean Democratic rating from us.
The rest of the competitive seats in the South Dakota Senate are all within Sioux Falls, so we will begin with the lone seat that Democrats hold; District 15. Third-term incumbent Democrat Reynold Nesiba got the poor end of the stick in redistricting. He ran behind Biden by 2 points in his old Biden +10 seat and is now running for re-election in a Biden +4 district with a Republican-friendly environment, and the Republicans will likely put up a stronger fight this time around.
Nesiba will face Republican nominee Brenda Lawrence (no, not the congresswoman from Michigan) for this seat, and we’ve got the race as a Toss-Up. Though, if we were to pick a winner today, it’d be Nesiba. Thanks to incumbency and a severe lack of information on Lawrence (she doesn’t have a website or a Facebook page from what we could find), we can’t comment on the strength of her campaign.
Another incumbent who did not benefit from redistricting is two-term incumbent Republican Maggie Sutton. Sutton represented a district that went to Trump by 20 under the old lines, but went to Biden by 11 under the new ones– a whopping 31-point swing on the presidential level. Sutton was able to outrun Trump by 5 points in her old district in a relatively uncompetitive race.
We’ve got this seat as a Toss-Up, but given the presidential margins here, it’s Democrats’ 2nd-best seat in the chamber this year (with District 27 being the 1st) in terms of chances of victory. Sutton will be facing Democratic nominee Liz Larson this November in a pure Toss-Up race.
The last competitive seat in the South Dakota Senate is District 12, where incumbent Republican Blake Curd will not be seeking re-election. This is a Trump +3 district that’s more friendly to downballot Republicans (Curd outran Trump by 4 points in 2020). Democrats don’t need to worry about an incumbency advantage here, but the fact that District 12 is such a Republican-friendly environment will still make this a formidable challenge for Democrats, despite the narrow presidential margin for Republicans.
In Curd’s absence, Republicans nominated State Representative Arch Beal, who will face Democratic nominee Jessica Meyers in November. We’ve got this seat as Likely Republican.