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In a landslide victory Tuesday, challenger Bob Ewing defeated Sen. Tom Nelson in the District 31 Senate primary despite the endorsement of Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Nelson, who is also the mayor of Lead, received 980 votes while Ewing, a Lawrence County commissioner, received 1,602, according to unofficial vote tallies.

The victory means Ewing will represent District 31 in the state Senate since the Democrats failed to get a candidate on the ballot.

Nelson said he was surprised by the outcome.

"I was disappointed with the low voter turnout. I thought we had more supporters out there," he said. "I had four great years in the Senate. I think I did a lot of good. I think I did a lot with the Sanford Lab and Deadwood gaming. The $1,000 bet limit is going to be huge.

"I don't think I did anything wrong, but the voters spoke," he said.

Though Nelson and Daugaard received criticism for the governor's endorsement, Nelson said the fact that his 20-year friend supported him meant more than the election.

Nelson is also the president of the Deadwood Gaming Association. He had called for more oil and gas exploration in western South Dakota and fought unsuccessfully to have the voter-approved smoking ban lifted for Deadwood casinos.

Nelson will still be vice chairman of the 2012 Summer Study on Oil and Gas Exploration and Development and for the time being remain on the Legislature Executive Board. He said he will spend additional time with his grandchildren and focus on his responsibilities as mayor of Lead.

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Ewing lamented the negative tone he saw in Nelson's campaign, including what he described as slew of nasty ads on the radio.

"I'm very happy that the Lawrence County voters saw through the political chaos and believed in me and voted for me," Ewing said. "I was drug upside down all over the county and it really upset me. My family said, 'Stay out of it.' I ran a really clean campaign."

Ewing, who was born in Deadwood, said he wants to bring more attention to local issues, such as the mountain pine beetle, to Pierre. He has served on the Lawrence County Commission for three terms.

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The District 31 House race was closer, with the four candidates for two open spots finishing within 11 percentage points of each other.

Incumbent Fred Romkema retained his seat with 31 percent of the vote, while attorney Tim Johns snagged the seat vacated this year by Rep. Chuck Turbiville with 25 percent of the vote. Real estate agent John Teupel, who was seeking a return to the Legislature after his 2001 to 2004 stint there, came in a close third with 23 percent of the vote but failed to get a seat.

Entrepreneur Gary Coe finished with 20 percent of the vote.

Johns said balancing the budget is the primary job of a legislator, but he'll need to learn the ropes first.

"As a freshman legislator, you're best off listening and getting the hang of things first," he said.

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Contact Aaron Orlowski at 484-7069 or aaron.orlowski@rapidcityjournal.com

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