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Collin Duprel ‘giving voters a choice’ in longshot bid to unseat South Dakota's US Rep. Dusty Johnson

Collin Duprel, a Sturgis-area rancher running as a political outsider with little fundraising, has his work cut out for him if he's going to beat incumbent Republican Dusty Johnson. A fixture of South Dakota politics for more than a decade, Johnson is eyeing a third term in Washington and has stressed his ability to deliver real change to voters.

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Republican incumbent Dusty Johnson, who has served two terms in South Dakota's at-large congressional seat, walks in the Hobo Day parade at South Dakota State University on Oct. 29.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — One night in April, Collin Duprel was sitting at home with his son, who had just celebrated his first birthday.

With no other challenger to incumbent Rep. Dusty Johnson in sight, the Libertarian party, Duprel thought, was the last hope to give voters a choice.

“In 10 or 15 years, was I going to tell my son about the time that I ran for Congress, or about the time that I was too afraid to stick my neck out?” Duprel told Forum News Service about his decision. “I wasn’t going to allow what I would consider a travesty of our Republic: letting a politician go back to D.C. without an election.”

So, Duprel, a Sturgis-area rancher who points to Ron Paul as a key figure in his own political development, answered the call.

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Collin Duprel, the candidate for Congress from the Libertarian party.
Courtesy Collin Duprel

His campaign is that of a true political outsider, with little fundraising and some unique policy prescriptions — his website lists dozens of positions, among them auditing the Federal Reserve, shuttering several federal departments including the Department of Education and instituting term limits.

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“What works in Mitchell might not work in Los Angeles,” Duprel said of his desire to scale back the size and scope of the federal government. “So we really don't need to make these broad strokes to try and cover people from all those places because the people that live there, they understand the needs of their communities.”

The candidates actually agree on some of these points, though Johnson offers a few caveats.

“I think the difference between Collin and myself is that he’s just focused on that bumper sticker slogan,” Johnson said on the issue of term limits, which he supports. “But it’s only part of the solution. If we want to increase trust in Congress, term limits alone will not get it done.”

Despite overlap on some views, Johnson has a different value proposition.

In four years, the self-described “scrappy Midwestern congressman” — a Mitchell resident and former chair of the Public Utilities Commission who was elected to the state’s solitary seat in 2018 — has sponsored more than two dozen bills that have become law.

“People appreciate the fact that I’ve actually delivered. Every politician will tell you that they can get things done,” Johnson said. “And I guess with an untested candidate, you just have to take their word for it. But, with me, voters don’t have to guess.”

While the congressional sophomore stressed his votes as “a really good fit with [South Dakota] values” on Biden-era spending packages and Trump-era border security measures, he has a track record of bipartisanship on certain issues.

Johnson and Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat, were the major backers in the House of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which made key changes to the ways that foreign shipping companies dealt with American goods. Johnson argues the rule change is partially responsible for a precipitous drop in ocean shipping costs over the past few months.

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“It is not an area that has as much sex appeal as some of the areas that Americans fight about,” Johnson said. “But it is a major legislative accomplishment.”

While no polling has been conducted for the race, Johnson has raised nearly $2.5 million and holds considerable advantages in name recognition, making him a heavy favorite by any metric. However, if any path exists for Duprel, it will come by flanking Johnson on both the right and left.

During the contest’s lone debate, hosted by South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Duprel emphasized his views on abortion, which he thinks should be legal before 20 weeks with exceptions for maternal health throughout pregnancy. Johnson, during the debate and in an interview, said he “believes that is a human body in the womb.”

Though Duprel says he is “pro-life,” he opposes government involvement in the decision on the grounds of bodily autonomy.

“We need to try to remember that bodily autonomy and your body, your choice means just that,” Duprel said, referencing his opposition to mandates for the coronavirus vaccine. “And if we pick and choose on the issues, we're going to lose on all of them.”

Still, that stance may eat into some of Duprel’s appeal with more conservative voters, and Johnson points to it as a key difference between the two.

“I think my opponent is substantially more liberal than I am,” Johnson said. “I think he’s giving voters a choice, and I think that’s worthwhile.”

MORE BY JASON HARWARD
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Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2022
Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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