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1980 United States Senate election in South Dakota

The 1980 United States Senate election in South Dakota was held on November 4, 1980. Incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator George McGovern ran for re-election to a fourth term, but was defeated by Republican James Abdnor.

United States Senate election in South Dakota, 1980

← 1974 November 4, 1980 1986 →
  JamesAbdnor.jpg George McGovern bioguide.jpg
Nominee James Abdnor George McGovern
Party Republican Democratic
Popular vote 190,594 129,018
Percentage 58.2% 39.4%

South Dakota Senate Election Results by County, 1980.svg
County Results

Abdnor:      40-50%      50-60%      60-70%      70-80%      80-90%

McGovern:      50–60%      60–70%      70–80%

U.S. Senator before election

George McGovern

Elected U.S. Senator

James Abdnor

Democratic primaryEdit



Democratic primary results[1]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic George McGovern (incumbent) 44,822 62.44%
Democratic Larry Schumaker 26,958 37.56%
Total votes 71,780 100.00%

Republican primaryEdit



Republican primary results[2]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican James Abdnor 68,196 72.93%
Republican Dale Bell 25,314 27.07%
Total votes 93,510 100.00%

General electionEdit



McGovern was one of several liberal Democratic U.S. senators targeted for defeat in 1980 by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), which put out a year's worth of negative portrayals of McGovern.[3] They and other pro-life groups especially focused on McGovern's support for pro-choice abortion laws.[4] McGovern faced a Democratic primary challenge for the first time, from a pro-life candidate.[5]

Abdnor, a four-term incumbent congressman who held identical positions to McGovern on farm issues, was solidly conservative on national issues, and was well liked within the state.[4][6] Abdnor's campaign focused on both McGovern's liberal voting record and what it said was McGovern's lack of involvement in South Dakotan affairs.[4] McGovern made an issue of NCPAC's outside involvement, and that group eventually withdrew from the campaign after Abdnor denounced a letter they had sent out.[4] Far behind in the polls earlier, McGovern outspent Abdnor 2-to-1, hammered away at Abdnor's refusal to debate him (drawing attention to a slight speech defect Abdnor had), and, showing the comeback pattern of some of his past races in the state, closed the gap for a while.[4][7][8]

However, in the general election McGovern was solidly defeated, getting only 39 percent of the vote to Abdnor's 58 percent.[7] McGovern became one of many Democratic casualties of that year's Republican sweep,[8] which became known as the "Reagan Revolution".


General election results[9]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican James Abdnor 190,594 58.20% +11.24%
Democratic George McGovern (incumbent) 129,018 39.40% -13.65%
Independent Wayne Peterson 7,866 2.40%
Majority 61,576 18.80% +12.72%
Turnout 327,478
Republican gain from Democratic Swing

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ *Marano, Richard Michael, Vote Your Conscience: The Last Campaign of George McGovern, Praeger Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-275-97189-9. pp. 22–23.
  4. ^ a b c d e Petersen, Iver (November 5, 1980). "McGovern Fails in Attempt At Fourth Term as Senator" (fee required). The New York Times. p. A21.
  5. ^ Marano, Vote Your Conscience, p. 27.
  6. ^ Marano, Vote Your Conscience, p. 29.
  7. ^ a b Marano, Vote Your Conscience, p. 32.
  8. ^ a b "Nation: Reagan Gets a G.O.P Senate". Time. November 17, 1980.
  9. ^