Stephen Groves
Stephen is a correspondent based in South Dakota.

Democratic state Rep. Jamie Smith running for SD governor

February 1, 2022 GMT
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South Dakota Rep. Jamie Smith announces his candidacy for governor during a news conference in Pierre, South Dakota on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)
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South Dakota Rep. Jamie Smith announces his candidacy for governor during a news conference in Pierre, South Dakota on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota state lawmaker Rep. Jamie Smith, who leads the House Democratic caucus, said Tuesday he is running for governor.

Smith’s announcement comes after a monthslong search by Democrats for a candidate to mount a challenge to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem. The governor also faces a Republican primary challenge from state Rep. Steve Haugaard.

Smith, who is also a Sioux Falls real estate agent, acknowledged that he faced an “uphill climb” as he enters a race in which Noem has already raised $11.8 million and carved out a nationwide profile among Republicans. He told The Associated Press he plans to make a broad appeal to “Democrats, independents and Republicans” and that he will portray Noem as setting her political ambitions above state interests.


“Gov. Noem has been too busy cozying up to big out-of-state donors to focus on South Dakota,” Smith said during a news conference to announce his candidacy.

Smith, who also has worked as a teacher and wrestling coach, plans to focus on bolstering education resources. He said also he will pitch improvements to mental health resources and plans to reduce incarceration rates. He pointed to his record of “building bridges” in the Legislature to “solve real problems.”

During his three terms in the House, Democrats have lost legislative seats to the point Smith is leading an eight-person caucus this year. He has found occasional victories by finding allies among his GOP colleagues, but often has represented a dissenting voice as Republicans push a conservative agenda on education, transgender rights and other social issues.

Noem’s campaign jabbed back at Smith’s announcement and willingness to attack the governor.

“Jamie’s voting record and values don’t align with the people of South Dakota,” said Joe Desilets, Noem’s campaign manager, adding that Smith had opposed expanding access to firearms, opposed restrictions on abortion access and supported government orders aimed at slowing COVID-19 infections.

While Smith at the news conference laughed off an accusation from Desilet that he is an “extreme liberal,” the Democrat will undoubtedly have to find a way to appeal beyond his party to have any hope of making the race competitive.

Democrats have lost thousands of registered voters in recent years. The state GOP boasts more than 280,000 registered voters, while Democrats have 152,000. There are an additional 140,000 independent voters.

Meanwhile, Noem’s approval among Republicans has risen with her hands-off approach to restrictions during the pandemic, and she has taken credit for the state’s rosy economic outlook. Smith last year pushed for mask-wearing requirements both in Sioux Falls and in the House chamber. He pointed out that the state’s economy has largely been bolstered by federal funding.

However, Smith, who cast himself as a “pro-business Democrat,” said he believes he can win support from a segment of Republican voters frustrated by Noem. He said he has already received support among “Republicans from in our state and out of our state.”

Noem won her first term in 2018 by defeating Democrat Billie Sutton by a little over 3 percentage points.