Students, faculty get involved in midterm elections, watch results
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Students, faculty get involved in midterm elections, watch results

Update: Republican candidate Kristi Noem was elected as South Dakota’s first woman governor, Republican  Jason Ravnsborg was elected South Dakota Attorney General and Republican Dusty Johnson was elected to South Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Students and faculty kept close watch on election night results at watch parties at Dakota Brickhouse and the Muenster University Center (MUC).

At time of publication, Republicans were projected by CNN to retain control of the U.S. Senate and Democrats were projected to win the U.S. House.

Ed Gerrish, assistant professor of political science, said faculty was present to help students interpret the results and the coverage.

“In a lot of instances, this may be the first time a student is watching midterm election returns,” he said. “It’s good to have faculty here to help students understand everything that’s going on.”

Julia Hellwege, assistant professor of political science, said these events help students gain more perspective on different political opinions.

“Events like this really bring our department together, it creates community,” Hellwege said. “We have research that shows that students engaging with faculty will often bring them to the middle of the political spectrum, as opposed to having them go into their enclosed bubbles and gravitate more toward the extremes.”

Historical gubernatorial candidates

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kristi Noem would be making history, if elected, by becoming the first ever female governor of South Dakota. Noem began her political career in the South Dakota House of Representatives until she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton would be making history by being the first South Dakota Democratic governor elected in 40 years. He was paralyzed from the waist down in Oct. 2007 when his horse flipped while competing in the PRCA Circuit Rodeo. With his rodeo career over, Sutton first began serving in the South Dakota Senate in 2010, since acquiring the title of South Dakota Senate Minority Leader.
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Tyler Wenande, a senior economics and political science major, and the organizer of Coyotes for Sutton said that Sutton’s story is compelling to South Dakota voters.

“As more people learn about Billie’s message and his story, I think it’s something that really resonates with people,” Wenande said.

David Earnest, the chair of the political science department, attributed the surprising success of the Sutton campaign to the, what he called, “historical precedent” of progressive periods of South Dakota politics. He noted that these periods often occur during times of agricultural strife in this state.

“What is the distress of farming and ranching communities attributing to the success of Billie Sutton?” Earnest said.

Students from the Noem campaign did not reply in time for publication of the story.

Election season involvement

Throughout the 2018 midterm election season, USD students and faculty have taken part in many activities and events on campus to make students aware of the importance of participating in the election.

Students have been campaigning for races all across the state, including the gubernatorial race between Republican Kristi Noem, and Democrat Billie Sutton. Students have been tabling in the MUC to promote voting. The Department of Political Science promoted the election by having student discussions and hosting local candidate forums. Gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton also visited campus this fall for a meet and greet with students, and Kristi Noem visited campus last spring.

Hellwege said that residents of this state are very politically aware, especially on USD’s campus.

“Even as a faculty member when I moved here, I noticed there was a lot of civic engagement not only on this campus but throughout the state,” Hellwege said.

Wenande said that their campaign will waste no time trying to engage voters.

“In the last couple of days of the campaign, we will really try to get out the vote by knocking on doors and engaging with students,” said Wenande.

Earnest said that the active attitude of students in this election cycle is going to make all the difference.

“Particularly in midterm elections, voter turnout tends to be lower than when there is a presidential election and mobilizing is very important,” Earnest said.

Earnest said the national stature of previous South Dakota political figures attributes to their success of engaging citizens.

“When you think about Senator Daschle, or Senator Thune or Senator McGovern, having all these national figures in this state shows that this is a very civic-minded state,” Earnest said.

Wenande said that it is important for young people and students to stay involved in electoral politics, even beyond this year’s election.

“Don’t get disheartened. You win elections, you lose elections, but there’s always another one,” Wenande said.

Kelli Susemihl contributed to this story.