After Close Governor Race, Sutton Hints at Political Future
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — In the weeks since Billie Sutton came closer to the governor's office than any Democrat in decades, his campaign has been unusually active for an unsuccessful candidate, sending out fundraising pleas hinting that there's more to come.
Sutton wrote in one post-election pitch that he wasn't just building a campaign but a movement — one that will "keep going and keep fighting for our shared priorities." Sutton told The Associated Press this week that he doesn't have plans right now to run for anything else, but said to expect to hear more from him in coming months as he gets input from supporters.
"Even when you lose a race like this, it just doesn't, that fire doesn't die out," Sutton said. "Whatever we do, it's going to take resources to do that, and so we're asking ... my supporters to join me in whatever that might be, even, even though we don't have it completely fleshed out yet."
Sutton's strong campaign gave Democrats rare hope in a statewide election for an office that hadn't gone blue since 1974.
Sutton cast himself as a moderate, with pro-gun and anti-abortion stances that made him palatable to many Republican voters, to push Kristi Noem hard to the finish. His unusual life story — a former rodeo cowboy who turned to politics after a paralyzing injury — brought him added attention, and he lost to Gov.-elect Noem by 3.4 percentage points in November.
After months of campaigning, Sutton returned to work full-time at a bank in Burke. He said he's enjoying spending time with his family and watching the National Finals Rodeo.
Sutton said his gubernatorial campaign doesn't have any debt and his fundraising efforts come as he's heard encouragement to stay engaged and think of ways to "have an impact moving forward." Sutton said his goal is to bring people together in an age of hyper-partisanship.
Sutton didn't share how much he's raised since the election, and the next campaign finance reporting isn't due until January. Sutton, 34, said it's too early to tell whether he'd run against incoming U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson or U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds in 2020 and he hasn't thought seriously about opting for a rematch against Noem in 2022.
Steve Jarding, a longtime Democratic strategist, said Sutton is a young man with a "tremendous profile" who is smarter, stronger and more experienced after his race against Noem. Jarding said Sutton could be a strong House or Senate candidate.
Republican strategist Jason Glodt in a statement called Sutton's fundraising emails "unusual," saying he should be more open with voters about his intentions since he's seeking money. Glodt said based on the close governor's race, it makes sense national Democratic Party leaders would attempt to recruit Sutton for federal office.
"However, such races would be much more difficult for him because the national Democratic liberal agenda ... does not sell in South Dakota," said Glodt, who worked on Rounds' 2014 campaign.
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