My home state, South Dakota, has always leaned Republican, and most South Dakotans are undoubtedly conservative. But for some reason, South Dakota, like North Dakota, has elected an unreasonable number of Democrats. George McGovern; I rest my case. Currently, the state is represented by one outstanding Republican Senator, John Thune, one undistinguished Democratic Senator, Tim Johnson, and a single Democratic Representative, Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin. (She acquired the last name when she married a Washington lobbyist.)
In order to be elected as a Democrat in South Dakota, a candidate has to pretend to be conservative, at least some of the time. Thus, while Herseth-Sandlin is generally a faithful Pelosi acolyte, she was permitted to vote against Obamacare and TARP to establish conservative cred with home-state voters.
South Dakota’s House race strikes me as a bellwether, in this sense: everyone expects the Republicans to make gains in November. It’s a matter of degree–will the GOP actually re-take the House, or make smaller gains that are routine by historical standards? It strikes me that if Republicans are to score a dramatic sweep, they will have to win races like the one in South Dakota. In other words, if a mediocre Congresswoman like Herseth-Sandlin can survive against a good Republican candidate in a Republican-leaning state, we are not witnessing a tide-turning election.
On Tuesday, South Dakota Republicans nominated a candidate who may be up to the task: Kristi Noem. Noem began the race as a relatively little-known legislator (assistant majority leader in the South Dakota House), but swept to an easy victory against two good opponents.
Noem is a farmer and rancher who also runs a hunting operation and a restaurant, all just a few miles from my home town. She is smart and articulate, as you can see in this interview; I like the rather amateurish interviewer, too.
The Democrats lost no time attacking Ms. Noem:
“With extreme views that are outside of the mainstream, she became known as ‘South Dakota’s Sarah Palin,'” state party Executive Director Erin McCarrick said in a statement. “South Dakotans need real solutions, not an extremist like Kristi Noem who isn’t ready to lead and has demonstrated a troubling lack of understanding of the challenges facing our state.”
That strikes me as an odd approach: there are states where you could damage a candidate by associating her with Sarah Palin, but I don’t think South Dakota is one of them. In fact, watching Noem in action, it is easy to surmise that South Dakotans like her for much the same reasons that Alaskans and others like Palin. As for being an extremist, you can check out her views here. She is a mainstream fiscal conservative, perfectly suited to the electorate’s mood.
You can donate to Noem’s campaign here. I would urge you to consider doing so. In a small media-market state like South Dakota, a little money can go a long way. This is one of many races that are winnable, but only if conservatives around the country get behind good candidates and give them our support.