The Republican runner-up to Kristi Noem in June’s primary election for governor, Marty Jackley, said he has not yet committed his support to any candidate for governor in the general election.

When asked whether he will vote for Noem, Jackley said, “I haven’t voted yet, and at this point I really haven’t made any final decisions.”

Speaking by phone Friday morning, Jackley, who is finishing his final term as South Dakota’s attorney general, left open the possibility that he will announce an endorsement in the governor’s race.

“I’ve certainly been talking to our team and listening to our supporters on what to do, and I intend to keep doing that and may make a decision between now and the election,” Jackley said, “and I may simply just continue to take the position that it’s really the voters of South Dakota that will be and should be picking their next governor.”

Noem, during a recent meeting with the Rapid City Journal editorial board, recalled complimentary statements Jackley made about her on the night of the primary election and at the state Republican convention. The lack of a formal endorsement from Jackley does not concern her, she said.

There are fewer than three weeks remaining before the Nov. 6 general election. Early voting is in progress, and Noem is locked in a reportedly close race with Democratic nominee Billie Sutton. Libertarian candidate Kurt Evans is also on the ballot.

Jackley, when asked if he is considering voting for Sutton, said, “What I’m doing is focusing on being the best attorney general I can be, which has lately been a lot of hours.” He cited a recent jury trial, an impending execution of a state prison inmate, and preparations to transition his office to a new attorney general in January (Jackley is term-limited) as duties pulling his attention away from politics.

Friday afternoon, the Sutton campaign issued a news release containing a compilation of positive things Republicans have said about Sutton in recent years. One of the quotes was from a Jackley Facebook post in May 2017, when he wrote, "I welcome Senator Billie Sutton into the race for South Dakota's next Governor. Billie and I have been friends for a long time and we have agreed that nothing will change our friendship. I look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail and positively talking about the issues that affect South Dakotans."

Regarding Noem, Jackley acknowledged that he remains upset about a series of advertisements she ran against him during the final phase of their primary race.

The ads featured Laura Zylstra Kaiser, a former agent for the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation. She sued DCI officials for allegedly retaliating against her after she accused a Brown County sheriff’s deputy of sexual harassment. She won a jury trial in December and later settled with the state for $1.5 million.

Part of Jackley’s job as attorney general is overseeing the DCI. In the Zylstra Kaiser ads, she described the harassment she allegedly suffered while working for the DCI, and she accused Jackley of refusing to help her when it was brought to his attention.

“Marty went along with the boys,” Zylstra Kaiser said in one of Noem’s campaign videos.

Jackley said the ads were unfair and were released late in the race to prevent him from adequately responding. He said Zylstra Kaiser’s repeated use of the pronoun “he” in the ads created a false impression among some voters that Jackley was the accused harasser.

Since the primary, Jackley said, some of his supporters “have gone different directions.” He thinks the Zylstra Kaiser ads may be partly to blame.

“That is one thing I do hear,” said Jackley, who made an appearance at a national gathering of county association executives Thursday in Deadwood. “I just heard it yesterday in Deadwood, and it is something I think could be a factor.”

Jackley said he is also hearing voter complaints about negative ads in the general election race for governor.

“My encouragement to both those candidates is stop the negative ads and run a campaign about what they intend to do for the future of South Dakota,” Jackley said.

Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com