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MERCER: Which candidate will make history in governor's race?

PIERRE — The deadline to register to vote in the 2018 general election is Oct. 22. That's less than three weeks away.

Depending on your politics, there's good news for Republicans. The Oct. 2 monthly report shows you at 253,933. That's a gain of more than 900 in one month and more than 8,000 since January.

For independents and no-party voters, there's good news, too. You're at 124,539. That's up more than 900 in a month and up about 3,800 since the start of the year.

Then come the Democrats. You're at 157,118. You've picked up nearly 400 registered voters in the past month. But you're still behind where you were as recently as May, and more than 2,800 behind where you stood in January.

Hard numbers often point to hard truths.

For Randy Seiler, the Democratic candidate for state attorney general, these numbers can't be encouraging as he battles Republican candidate Jason Ravnsborg. 1972 was the most recent time a Democrat won that contest.

If you're Tim Bjorkman, the Democratic candidate for the seat opening in the U.S. House, these numbers point potentially toward a fifth straight term that a Republican wins; this time, it's Dusty Johnson.

Then there's the contest for governor. And that might be tighter than registration suggests.

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem defeated Attorney General Marty Jackley for the Republican nomination in June. She won 57,598 to 45,174.

But she also pummeled Marty with the Laura Kaiser ad longer (and harder) than many thought she should.

Of course, Marty using his wife and daughter for a bitter, last-stand rebuttal didn't seem to help, either.

Meanwhile, state Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton didn't have a primary.

And, based on the quality, frequency and variety of his TV ads that began airing in late summer and have continued, Billie has sufficient money to make this a contest.

The last Democrat to win an election for governor was incumbent Dick Kneip. That was in 1974, the year South Dakota doubled up and began four-year terms.

Kneip lost his comeback bid in the 1986 primary to state Rep. Lars Herseth, son of a former governor. Herseth lost the general to Republican George S. Mickelson, son of another former governor.

Mickelson received 152,543 votes to Herseth's 141,898. No Democrat has come that close again.

Billie has taken some pages from other Democrats' campaigns. His TV ad with Republicans saying they're voting for him? Straight from Tom Daschle's playbook.

Kristi has been running a good ad, too: Her husband, Bryon, talks about her work ethic. The message plays to one of her strengths.

Billie announced last week he had pulled ahead in polling he commissioned. True? Maybe. But it reminded me of claims Clint Roberts made in the 1986 primary, when he kept declaring he was ahead of Mickelson, until he wasn't.

Kristi would be South Dakota's first woman elected governor. Billie would be the first Democrat since 1974.

Either way, Nov. 6 will be a history-making day.

Be part of that history. Be sure to vote.

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