S.D. lawmaker accuses Rep. Dusty Johnson of ‘DC-style ambush’ to keep her out of Senate race

Johnson denies accusations of intimidation, said conversation was ‘friendly’

A state lawmaker in South Dakota has accused Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S. D., of trying to intimidate her to keep her out of the race for South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds’ seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A state lawmaker in South Dakota has accused Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S. D., of trying to intimidate her to keep her out of the race for South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds’ seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 30, 2019 at 12:00pm

A state representative in South Dakota has alleged a “DC-style ambush” to intimidate her into forgoing a run for the Senate.

State Rep. Scyller Borglum said Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson, acting as a surrogate for Sen. Mike Rounds, intimidated her in a private meeting in an effort to dissuade her from launching a primary challenge to Rounds. 

Johnson and two colleagues met with Borglum and her husband ahead of a Lincoln Day fundraiser on Saturday and tried to quash her yet-to-be-announced Senate campaign, according to a Rapid City Journal report about the alleged confrontation. 

According to Borglum’s account, Johnson told her the senator’s campaign is prepping opposition research and would  “expose the ‘dirt’” should she announce a bid. Johnson told Borglum the senator has called the state’s largest donors to ensure she would be “completely boxed out and unable to run for any future office.”

Johnson disputes Borglum’s recollection of their conversation, and called it a “friendly meeting.” The first-term Republican congressman denies making threats, but said he did tell Borglum he could not support her should she challenge Rounds.

“I have conducted hundreds of meetings with people over the years to recruit candidates or to offer advice to candidates and prospective candidates. This was not the first time I’ve sat down with State Rep. Borglum to offer advice, I care about my state so that’s just what I do,” Johnson said in a statement to Roll Call. “We are all on the same team and should be focusing on the issues our districts and our nation are facing. Infighting is something I will not be a part of.”

Borglum told the Rapid City Journal she felt as if she had “nothing to lose” by blasting Johnson amidst the fallout from their alleged skirmish. But few outside of the room know about the meeting at all, according to Johnson’s press secretary Jazmine Kemp. 

The Rounds campaign didn’t want to comment on the dispute. 

“We don’t have anything to add to a meeting that we didn’t participate in,” said Rob Skjonsberg, a spokesman for the Rounds campaign told Roll Call. “Our team will be prepared for all comers.” 

Rounds raised $597,000 in donations for his 2020 reelection campaign in the first quarter of the year, the Rapid City Journal reported, a steep sum for any challenger to match. 

Rounds replaced Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson after he retired in 2014. 

Groups affiliated with the tea party like the Senate Conservatives Fund, a far-right political action committee that supports conservative primaries against Republican incumbents, courted an alternative to Rounds.

But a formidable tea party candidate never emerged, and Rounds won the five-way primary. 

Rounds won the general election with 50 percent of the vote, with Democrat Rick Weiland, a former congressional aide, drawing 29 percent of the vote. Former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, who ran as an independent, garnered 17 percent of the vote, drawing more support from Democratic voters than from Republicans.

South Dakota is not a top target for the Democratic Party. President Donald Trump won the state by 30 points in 2016. And the president maintained a nearly 50 percent approval rating among state voters of both parties before the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Argus Leader.

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