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Thune wins historic 4th term in U.S. Senate

Sen. John Thune reelection
Lee Strubinger
Sen. John Thune speaks at the GOP election night party on Nov. 8, 2022 shortly after he won reelection.

South Dakotans have elected Sen. John Thune to a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

The Republican incumbent defeated Democrat Brian Bengs and Libertarian Tamara Lesnar. The Associated Press called the race Tuesday evening shortly after polls closed West River.

Thune joins Karl Mundt as the only South Dakotan to win a fourth term in the Senate. Mundt, a Republican, was first elected in 1948 and served continuously until he retired in 1973.

Following his victory, Thune said it’s always gratifying when voters put their trust in him.

“There are lots of folks out there who didn’t vote for me, but I’ll work hard to be deserving of their support as well. I’m grateful for our democracy,” Thune said. “The chance that somebody like me that comes from a small town can have an opportunity to serve in a place like the United State Senate is a great tribute to our American model of government—to those who came before us, who paved the way for us.”

Thune's career in politics began in 1996 when South Dakotans elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran for Senate in 2002, losing to incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson. Two years later, he defeated Democrat Tom Daschle, the Senate Minority Leader at the time. He has served in the Senate ever since.

In the years that followed, Thune climbed the ranks within the Republican Party, eventually becoming Whip in 2019. He is currently the second-ranking Republican in the Senate.

Thune mulled retirement before confirming plans to run for reelection in January. He faced headwinds within the party after publicly sparring with former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election. Trump at one point called for Gov. Kristi Noem to challenge Thune in the Republican Primary.

Like many other GOP candidates in deep red states, Thune campaigned as a Republican bulwark against the Biden Administration and various Democratic policies.

Brian Bengs.jpg
Democrat Brian Bengs deliver his concession speech after losing the Senate race to incumbent Republican John Thune on Nov. 8, 2022.

Bengs, a retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel, was relatively unknown in state political circles before announcing plans to run for Senate. He changed his affiliation from Independent to Democrat to run under the party banner.

During the SDPB/Dakota News Now Senate debate, both Bengs and Lesnar spent most of their time challenging Thune on several issues. Bengs sought to paint Thune as a "Washington insider" beholden to big business. Thune countered by pointing to his conservative voting record.

After his defeat, Bengs said Thune's dramatic advantage in campaign funds proved too much to overcome. He also lamented what he considered a lack of discourse within the campaign. An assistant professor at NSU, Bengs said he had hoped the campaign would have allowed for more discussions like the ones he has in class.

"We could have discussions, civil discussions, about the hot button issues. About abortion, and affirmative action, stuff like that," Bengs said. "Just have a discussion about it, and discuss the ideas. We’re not able to do that. That’s my biggest disappointment with the campaign.”

Senate Debate 2022
Candidates for U.S. Senate meet Nov. 4 at the SDPB/Dakota News Now debate.

Josh Chilson is the news director at South Dakota Public Broadcasting. A Florence, S.D. native, Josh graduated with a journalism degree from South Dakota State University. He has worked as as a newspaper reporter and videographer, and most recently as managing editor for Dakota News Now. Josh is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.
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