South Dakota’s Noem shores up support with Youngkin, Gabbard

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem was looking to shore up support for her South Dakota reelection bid Wednesday through a series of rallies with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Noem has risen to national prominence within the GOP during her term as the state’s first female governor but has shown some signs of political vulnerability, even in reliably red South Dakota. The Republican governor has outspent her Democratic opponent, state lawmaker Jamie Smith, in the midterm election by nearly 6-to-1.

Noem crisscrossed between the state’s largest cities for three rallies Wednesday. Smith, meanwhile, embarked on an RV tour that will circle the state.

Noem has focused on ensuring her base turns out on Election Day. She called the race “close” at the rally with Youngkin.

The rally drew a few hundred people to a Sioux Falls convention hall who laughed along as Noem gifted a cowboy hat to Youngkin. The Virginia governor in turn launched basketballs into the crowd.

Noem’s choice of campaign surrogates — Youngkin, who won election in a trending-blue Virginia last year, and Gabbard, who recently left the Democratic Party — suggested she was trying to appeal to moderate voters. Noem doesn’t plan to attend a Thursday rally with former President Donald Trump just over the Iowa border in Sioux City, she said.

Noem allied herself closely with Trump early on during the COVID-19 pandemic and derided mandating business closures or masks. The position garnered her national attention in the GOP, and she has staked out right-wing positions on abortion and education.

Noem claimed Smith had “attacked me every day for not shutting down the state and letting businesses stay open.”

Noem has tried to tie Smith to President Joe Biden, who she says is “too extreme” for South Dakota — a state where voter rolls have almost twice as many Republicans as Democrats.

Smith has run as a moderate with a record of working with Republicans in the state House of Representatives, where he led a caucus of just eight Democratic members.

He cast Noem’s rallies as a sign she was “worried” and another example of her “nationalizing” the race. He has accused Noem of being more focused on national ambitions than her job at home.

“We continue to do what we’ve done all along and that’s focus on South Dakota,” he told The Associated Press.

Noem has generated speculation she could mount a 2024 White House bid, though she says she plans to serve four more years as governor if reelected.

Youngkin, meanwhile, has become a frequent presence at Republican campaigns nationwide and is seen as another rising figure in the GOP.

“What we did last year in Virginia was take a state that everybody thought was blue and bring people together around common-sense solutions to these kitchen table issues,” he said, pointing to inflation, education and crime.

Gabbard sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination but defected from the Party this year. She has campaigned for Republican candidates in a number of swing states, including South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan and Nevada, during the midterm election.

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