FROM LEFT TO RIGHT
Writing in 1946, John Gunther described South Dakota as a model of political conservatism.1 This was indeed a short perspective. In the 1890's the state had been a Populist stronghold. Scorning fusion with the Democrats before 1896, the Populists polled between 30 percent and 40 percent of the vote. In 1896 and 1898, Fusion candidates were victorious. Only six years later, a progressive captured the Republican nomination for governor; and from then until the 1930's South Dakota was a banner progressive state. Teddy Roosevelt carried it in 1912, and it gave strong support to the Non-Partisan League and to the La Follette campaign of 1924. However, the transformation of the Republican Party during the New Deal led to a period of conservative control which was the longest in South Dakota history. In the late 1950's, there was a Democratic resurgence.
South Dakota thus supported the left wing of the Republican Party before the New Deal and the right wing after it. Its electorate contributed to Populist strength in the 1890's, its political leadership to McCarthyite strength in the 1950's. Yet South Dakota agrarian radicalism did not become conservative; rather it declined as a viable alternative to traditional conservatism. There were several reasons for this. Politically, with the New Deal liberal state politicians no longer found a home in the Republican Party. But the GOP continued to