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Reigning Republicans say election results show what they're doing is working for South Dakota

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SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — From South Dakota's congressional offices down to treasurer, Republicans hold every statewide office for the first time in more than 50 years.

Mike Rounds joins a newly united U.S. House and Senate as the state's junior senator — the first all-GOP South Dakota delegation since John F. Kennedy was president — replacing the lone, retiring Democratic holdout Tim Johnson.

A stacked political deck isn't necessarily unusual in a state that tends to lean Republican, but lawmakers said after Tuesday's election that their overwhelming majority status is proof that voters believe in a conservative path.

"I think that, hopefully, it's not just a symbol," U.S. Sen. John Thune said Tuesday evening. "I think it's more hopefully an indication that our government, our style has worked here in South Dakota."

By retaining the supermajority in the state Legislature and Dennis Daugaard in the governor's office — plus helping the national party succeed in regaining control of the Senate — Republicans plan to keep doing what they're doing.

Republicans told voters on the campaign trail that would include, at least on a state level, continuing to hold down taxes, keeping the state's business climate competitive and pursuing economic development programs to hold down an unemployment rate that's one of the country's lowest. They also plan to tackle initiatives such as improving transportation infrastructure and juvenile justice reform.

But some Democrats believe that one-party rule isn't a healthy way to govern, and intend on continuing to bring ethics measures to the state Legislature.

This Senate race was nothing like Johnson's narrow, 524-vote triumph over Thune in 2002, or Thune's tight victory over Sen. Tom Daschle in 2004. Rounds held a margin of more than 20 percent over his nearest rival early Wednesday, with about a quarter left to count. South Dakota Republican Party Chairman Craig Lawrence said the state party tripled or quadrupled its ground game this year compared to its efforts in 2012.

And the state Democratic Party didn't have the resources to adequately back legislative candidates or even its gubernatorial nominee, state Rep. Susan Wismer. Democrats didn't run candidates for at least 40 of the state's 105 legislative seats on the ballot.

PHOTO: Republican Mike Rounds celebrates with supporters after winning South Dakota Senate race at an election night party in Sioux Falls, S.D., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.  (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Republican Mike Rounds celebrates with supporters after winning South Dakota Senate race at an election night party in Sioux Falls, S.D., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

"If I fail, it's only because I didn't have the money and the machine behind me," Wismer said before the results arrived Tuesday, referring to the Republican party. "It's not because our message wasn't the right message."

Lawrence said he believes the GOP's focus on limited government, personal freedom and low taxes resonates with South Dakota voters. Rounds reiterated his campaign themes on Tuesday night: He'll try to repeal and replace the federal health care act, push forward on the Keystone XL pipeline and remove bureaucracy and regulatory burdens for farmers and businesses.

On a statewide level, Lawrence said Republicans plan to listen to residents — and pledged not to overreach, a promise that state House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff believes.

"People who think they have a mandate wake up in the morning with a big surprise," Lawrence said.

Wismer said Democrats' policies still may pass; she pointed to the successful amendment to raise South Dakota's minimum wage come January.

But she also said she believes one-party rule breeds extremism and closes off government. One clear example is controversy over Rounds' management of the EB-5 visa program when he was governor, which his opponents dogged him on during the campaign.

The program allows wealthy foreigners to obtain visas to live in the United States in exchange for investments in South Dakota job projects. Rounds was ultimately able to shake it off, but the small Democratic minority of state lawmakers plan to chase after ethics legislation this session that they hope will prevent further potential abuses by state employees.

Hunhoff was pragmatic about what the Republican gains meant for the state.

"We've lost the checks and balances some time ago," he said earlier Tuesday. "I don't think that's going to be a big change between yesterday and tomorrow."


Follow James Nord at https://www.twitter.com/jvnord

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