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Underdog governor candidates work for votes in SD GOP primary

2018 gubernatorial candidates Lora Hubbel, right, and Terry LaFleur, attend a forum this month at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. (Evan Hendershot / Forum News Service)

MITCHELL, S.D. — As two widely known Republicans vie for their party's nomination for governor, two other South Dakotans are waiting in the wings for their moment in the spotlight.

While U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Marty Jackley rake in the campaign cash, former state legislator Lora Hubbel and lawyer Terry LaFleur are working to get their name recognition up before next summer's GOP primary.

The pair of lesser-known candidates were in Mitchell this month, as well as Jackley, for a forum at Dakota Wesleyan University. Hubbel spoke with Forum News Service about the hurdles she faces challenging the Republican establishment. And she said the fact there's two well-known candidates in the field could help her cause.

"That's how (former Gov. Mike) Rounds won, he was a default candidate because the two powerhouses were beating each other up, so that could possibly happen again," Hubbel said.

In 2002, then-former state Sen. Mike Rounds overcame then-Attorney General Mark Barnett and former Lt. Gov. Steve T. Kirby in the Republican primary. Fifteen years later, Hubbel sees a similar window of opportunity for a third candidate.

Hubbel, of Sioux Falls, is no political newcomer. She challenged Gov. Dennis Daugaard in the 2014 Republican primary for governor, bringing home 14,196 votes to Daugaard's 60,017. But she's still not getting attention from at least one of her competitors.

In mid-October, Jackley challenged Noem to a "clean" campaign pledge. Noem declined the pledge for a campaign free of political barbs and name-calling, and she was the only candidate asked.

There was no mention of Hubbel, nor LaFleur, who's perhaps the least known candidate in the field.

Hubbel has at least one advantage in the primary. In the 2014 GOP primary, every Republican voter saw her name on the ballot for governor, an edge lacking in the LaFleur camp.

At the DWU forum this month, LaFleur spent significant time attempting to familiarize prospective voters with his past, a history scattered with tales like overcoming adversity of being a non-traditional student and earning a law degree. When asked about the issues facing the state, LaFleur hoped to turn more power over to the people.

"You should have a say in every aspect of what's going on in the state," LaFleur said during the forum. " ... Nothing should ever be done without the consensus of the voters."

While the forum offered the pair of longshots an opportunity to earn facetime with a new crowd, overcoming the bountiful campaign chests of Jackley and Noem would only be the first hurdle. Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton will likely be the candidate a Republican nominee faces in the November 2018 election.

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