John Thune declares victory, cruises to fourth term in the U.S. Senate
Sioux Falls Republican is the second South Dakotan to win four terms in the Senate.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Republican John Thune handily won a historic fourth term in the U.S. Senate, declaring victory in his race early on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Thune faced Democrat Brian Bengs, a retired military officer and associate professor at Northern State University.
Thune is the second South Dakotan to win four Senate contests and overcomes the electoral barrier that ended the careers of senatorial titans George McGovern, Tom Daschle and Larry Pressler.
The vote margin was 71% to 25% in favor of Thune as of midnight Tuesday night, as vote counting continued. Libertarian Tamara Lesnar had 4 percent.
“I will stay true to the Constitution, to rule of law and the great people here in South Dakota,” Thune told supporters gathered in a downtown Sioux Falls hotel. “That oath is what animates me on a daily basis and it will continue to be the place I will look, for my source of strength and my foundation.”
Thune, holds the second-highest post in the Senate Republican caucus. The Murdo native and Sioux Falls resident began the campaign with advantages in name recognition, financial support and organizational experience.
Bengs, a political newcomer from Aberdeen, focused his campaign on strengthening health care and reducing taxes for working-class citizens, fighting consolidation in agri-business and bolstering Social Security and Medicare.
Bengs joined the Democratic Party this year after a lifetime as a registered independent. While he had a rich history as a military officer, serving in both the Navy and Air Force, he was new to South Dakota moving to Aberdeen with his wife and two daughters in 2016.
U.S. senators serve six-year terms and are currently paid $174,000 per year.
Karl Mundt is the only other South Dakotan to win election to the U.S. Senate four times. But that came with some controversy. After winning that fourth term in 1966, the Madison Republican suffered a debilitating stroke in 1969. While he was never able to return to the Senate. His wife, Mary, unofficially carried on in his place through the end of the term.
McGovern was first elected in 1962 and served three terms. He reached a political zenith as the Democratic nominee for president in 1972 and won re-election in 1974.
But in 1980, McGovern lost to Sen. Jim Abdnor, amid a public sentiment that he’d become detached from his home state and the fervor of President Ronald Reagan’s campaign.
Pressler, a Republican, served three terms before his defeat by then-Congressman Tim Johnson in 1990.
Dashle defeated Abdnor in 1986 and rose to majority leader, the highest post in the Senate. Thune ousted Daschle in 2004, an epic campaign that saw the Senate switch to Republican control.
The political climate has become even more rancorous since Thune won his first term.
"The country is divided over some very tough issues," Thune told Forum News Service following his remarks. "But I think in the end most people want to see results. They want you to work in a constructive way where you can, not in a way that compromises your principles, but in a way where you can find common ground to get solutions."