Noem: I can win

June 23, 2010

State Rep. Kristi Noem believes South Dakota’s Republican voters chose her because she is the strongest possible opponent for Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.

That’s the view of the Republican candidate for the state’s sole House seat. Noem, the last of the three GOP candidates to file, won the June 8 primary to run for the seat.

She said Republican voters looked at the three candidates in the field — Secretary of State Chris Nelson, state Rep. Blake Curd and herself —and decided she had the best chance to win on Nov. 2.

“I think they looked at that,” Noem said. “People really did think that as they got to know me.”

Voters saw her as someone who “could win the seat,” she said.

She also feels her business experience and her record in Pierre helped her win the primary. Noem, a Hazel native who now lives in Castlewood, is in the final year of her second term as a state representative for District 6 in the northeast part of the state.

During her first term, she was elected to the Legislature’s Executive Board, a bipartisan entity that handles legislative matters between sessions. Noem was named assistant House majority leader in her second term.

Noem was in Mitchell most of the day Tuesday, making campaign stops, greeting voters at Dakota Wesleyan University and holding a campaign meet and greet at the home of state Rep. Noel Hamiel, R-Mitchell.

Noem made the stops with a small campaign entourage that included state Rep. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell.

During the primary campaign, Noem said she is everything Herseth Sandlin claims to be: A small-town South Dakota resident with deep roots in agriculture and small business.

Noem, 38, said that’s a theme she will return to during the general election. “It is something we’ll keep talking about,” she said.

Noem said she has the full support of her husband, Bryon, and three children, Kassidy, Kennedy and Booker. She contemplated a run for the House seat in 2008, she said, adding that “it didn’t really work for my family.”

Now, she said, they’re ready and willing to help her win.

She lives on a ranch near Castlewood, where the family raises Angus cattle and also shows quarter horses. Noem said she has farmed with her family for 17 years, and they also owned and operated a hunting operation and a family restaurant.

After graduating from Hamlin High School in 1990, Noem studied at Northern State University, took classes at a Mount Marty satellite campus in Watertown and was attending South Dakota State University when she was called home by a family tragedy.

Her father was killed in a grain-bin accident, and Noem abandoned her pharmacy studies to help on the family farm. She is now taking classes and plans to earn a degree in political science.

If she does win, Noem vowed to serve a maximum of 10 years in Congress. She said she isn’t looking for a career in politics.

Noem said she wants to follow in the footsteps of the nation’s founding fathers and serve for a time before deciding to “step back and be part of the community.”

But she said if she does win the election, she will represent South Dakota values and will be a strong, conservative voice in Congress.

She differs with Herseth Sandlin on the health-care reform bill, which she said she would vote to repeal. While that may be difficult no matter the makeup of Congress in 2011, she said opponents of the law can block funding and make it difficult to implement, and she would join in that effort.

The law is unpopular with South Dakotans, Noem said, who feel it increases costs, reduces access and puts “government between them and their doctor.”

Herseth Sandlin voted against the bill but, in a joint announcement with Rapid City doctor Kevin Weiland, who was contemplating a run against her in the 2010 Democratic primary, vowed not to work or vote to repeal the law.

Noem said that’s what she was referring to recently when she accused Herseth Sandlin of acting for “personal and professional gain” during her service in Congress. Noem said Herseth Sandlin made the pledge not to fight the health reform law “to avoid a primary.”

Noem said she also differs with Herseth Sandlin on the federal stimulus, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the debt ceiling.

Noem said she supports altering the farm bill to add more risk-management policies to assist producers while offering fewer direct subsidies.

Her family’s farm and ranch operation, the Racota Valley Ranch, has received federal farm payments over the years — one report set the number at $3 million from 1995 to 2008, a figure she did not dispute.

But she pointed out that the operation is the joint effort of five families who must compete in the same environment as other producers. Noem said running as a conservative, small-government candidate who has accepted subsidies is not an inconsistent position.

“No, I don’t think so at all,” she said.

She said the country’s “cheap food policy” has shaped ag programs and business over the years. At the same time, the country needs to be able to produce enough food for its citizens and not rely on other nations, Noem said, calling it a “national security issue.”

She said she has been an ardent supporter of Second Amendment issues and sponsored a bill that protected gun owner rights that passed both houses of the Legislature this year and was signed into law.

She also sponsored a bill to bolster wind energy production that became law in this session, Noem said.

She said it’s been a good first half of 2010 with her success in the Legislature and the upset win in the GOP primary.

A Rasmussen Reports phone poll has shown her with a 53-41 lead over Herseth Sandlin.

“That poll was good news for us,” she said. “We were excited to see that.”

But using a phrase that Herseth Sandlin has also employed this spring, Noem said the only poll that matters is on Nov. 2.

Noem said small contributions continue to come in and she is hopeful of backing from the national Republican Party. “I haven’t yet (received that support) but I believe that I will,” she said.

Her campaign will focus on electing a representative who speaks for South Dakota values and beliefs, Noem said. She’s betting that’s her.

“We have to make sure we’re electing a leader,” Noem said.

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