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Eslinger upsets Ross in SD 33 primary


The contest heated up in the weeks leading up to the primary, with two state representatives and one former legislator in the ring. But at the end of the night, it was Rep. Karla Eslinger who emerged victoriously. 

Eslinger beat former state Rep. Van Kelly and current state Rep. Robert Ross, the projected favorite heading into Tuesday. Only 142 votes separated Eslinger and Ross. 

By Wednesday morning, Ross had reached out to Eslinger to concede the race and congratulated his fellow House member publicly on social media. 

“I want to congratulate Karla Eslinger for running a strong and successful campaign about her ideas for the future of this state,” Ross, who represents HD 142, said. “I look forward to working with Karla as our next state senator. I also want to thank Van Kelly for running a good campaign as well. He and his family are some of the most respected people in our region, and I have always admired the way they live out their faith.”

“Now, it is time to focus on the General Election and supporting President Trump and all of our Republican candidates in November,” Ross said. 

By the time all precincts were reporting Tuesday night, Eslinger was up with 37.1 percent of the votes compared to Ross at 36.7 percent. Kelly raked in just over 26 percent. 

Eslinger had the backing of state Sen. Mike Cunningham, whose time representing SD 33 is coming to a close due to term limits.

Cunningham was a vociferous defender of Eslinger when mailers were distributed from the Team Robert PAC depicting her in a “lewd” manner. Eslinger was the only female Republican contender in the race. 

Ross has worked on the House Budget Committee, a particular point of pride for the lawmaker during his tenure. He also chairs the Professional Registration and Licensing Committee as well as the Special Committee on Government Oversight. 

Kelly served in the House from 2000 to 2008, representing Douglas, Wright, and Eastern Ozark counties. 

Ahead of the election, Ross had more than $25,000 cash on hand. Eslinger had more than $122,000, and Kelly had about $16,000. 

Eslinger was elected to the House in 2018. Ross was elected in 2012. 

Tammy Harty is the Democratic nominee for the seat.