Most South Dakota Democrats had no state House or Senate options in the 2012 primary — there were only three Democratic primary contests in the entire state for the House, and none for the Senate. But South Dakota Democratic Party Chair Ben Nesselhuf said this issue isn’t a lack of Democratic candidates, it’s an issue of picking their fights.

Three primary races ties for the least number of contests for either party in more than 40 years. There were also three Democratic primary races in 1998, but that year had the second-lowest number of registered Democrats in the state since 1976 and was not a presidential election year.

Secretary of State Jason Gant said he doesn’t know if three primary races is the least there have ever been because of the addition of term limits in 1992.

“The number of primaries may have increased due to term limits,” Gant said. “But three is low.”

While the low number of registered Democrats might have had an effect on the number of primaries in 1998, the number of registered Democrats so far this year is around 186,000 — down from 204,000 in 2008. Nesselhuf said this year’s lack of primary contests wasn’t a result of lack of candidates or voters but — it was by design.

“We were not focused on creating primaries,” Nesselhuf said, “we tried to make sure we didn’t have primaries.”

In contrast, this year there were 27 Republican primary contests, which is the first time the number of primaries for either party has exceeded 20 since at least 1970.

In all, the Democrats had 25 Senate candidates and 47 House candidates who did not face a primary challenge, but will be up for election in November. A total of 77 Democratic candidates are seeking office this November. Nesselhuf also said the large number of primaries for the Republican Party was a symptom of a split that doesn’t exist in the Democratic Party.

“We’re a unified party right now, unlike the Republican Party,” Nesselhuf said. “We’re all on the same page.”

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