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Johnson to face 2020 Democratic challenger for S.D.'s lone U.S. House seat

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., speaks during a trade and tariff forum on Wednesday during Dakotafest in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

PIERRE, S.D. — Republican U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson will be facing a challenger to keep South Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2020.

Democrat Brian Wirth announced at a Friday, Aug. 23 Minnehaha County Democratic Party fundraiser that he would take on the freshman representative next fall. Wirth works as a financial crimes investigator for MetaBank, where he investigates cases of money laundering, identity theft and tax refund fraud. Wirth also serves as the county party's treasurer.

On Monday, he said he hadn't seen other Democrats stepping up to the plate and he "just wanted to make sure people had a choice" in the voting booth.

"Campaigns, more than just winning, are about raising awareness of issues and standing up for what you believe in," he said.

One of the issues he hopes to spotlight is gerrymandering, which he points to as the reason for Republicans' super-majority in South Dakota, as well as for his own loss to state Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids, in 2018's midterm election. Wirth ran as an Independent for the 25th Senate District.

Fifty-nine of the state's 70 state representatives, as well as 30 out of 35 total state senators, are Republican.

Statewide, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem clinched a narrow 3% victory over Democratic candidate and former Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton in 2018. Johnson in 2018 won his U.S. House seat by a 24% margin against Democratic candidate Tim Bjorkman. Two years earlier, President Donald Trump in 2016 won the state by nearly 30 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Though South Dakota has voted red in recent elections, Democrats have served in the state's Washington delegation within the past decade. Democratic former-U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat, served in the U.S. House from 2004 to 2011 before now-Gov. Noem won her seat in November 2010. Democratic former-U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson was voted into the U.S. Senate in 1996, serving until he retired in 2015. Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds won his seat in 2014.

Asked why he's looking to take on Dusty Johnson, Wirth said he doesn't think Johnson "has the ability to stand up to his party," particularly on agricultural issues and Trump's ongoing trade war.

In a Monday written statement, Johnson did not directly address Wirth's run, but said he has been touring the state hosting round tables and town hall events to hear back from his constituents.

"Feedback is critical and I'll continue working to get results for South Dakota," Johnson said.

Johnson may also face a challenger from within the Republican party: Former state senator and Trump campaigner Neal Tapio publicly announced earlier this month that he is "actively considering a run for the U.S. House" in 2020. Tapio came in last in 2018's Republican primary for Johnson's seat, after Johnson and former-Secretary of State Shantel Krebs.

Wirth lives in Dell Rapids with his wife and two children. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science and criminal justice from the University of South Dakota.

This version has been updated to correct Tim Johnson's years in Senate. He was elected to the Senate in 1996, and served consistently from 1997 to 2015. Prior to his time in the U.S. Senate, he served as the state's at-large representative in the U.S. House from 1987 through 1997.

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