Kristi Noem may be the Tom Daschle of the Republican primary in 2018. Stuck in Washington for seven years, gubernatorial candidate Noem is looking out of touch with the South Dakota issues and events around which her race may revolve.
At this month’s Government Operations and Audit Committee meeting, Democratic candidate for governor Senator Billie Sutton proposed legislation that would make more correspondence and records of government officials’ activities public record. One Republican legislator huffed and puffed that such openness is bad, but Republican candidate for governor Attorney General Marty Jackley, smartly recognizing that secrecy and corruption are issues that might resonate with 2018 voters, jumped on the PR bandwagon this week and said he supports Sutton’s proposal. Rep. Kristi Noem, distracted by her DC tax cuts for billionaires and her busy Instagram account, uttered a below-the-fold platitude about how government transparency is “essential” but avoided committing to Sutton’s proposal, which she’s probably never heard of.
Jackley played another advantage this week, challenging Noem to sign a clean campaign pledge. Noem declined, and of course she would, because it is an obvious campaign stunt, but the practical point is that Jackley is here in South Dakota able to launch these campaign stunts any time he wants, and now, because his campaign team had the time and bandwidth to launch this particular stunt first, he can run around the state saying Noem refused to promise not to attack his family and children. The bitter attack politics of Washington must be rubbing off on Kristi; she’s lost touch with South Dakota values—the campaign lines write themselves.
Noem is also missing important local events. She missed the McGovern Civic Engagement Forum in Mitchell on Tuesday, which all three of her Republican challengers attended (but not Democrat Sutton, dang it… though he is hauling his hat around the state on his listening tour). And check out who’s not listed on this flyer for the GOP Gov Club Hunt hunt next weekend:
Jackley will be there, as will both GOP Congressional candidates Krebs and Johnson, but no mention of Noem yet.
In running for governor while serving in Congress, Kristi Noem is attempting a political move unprecedented in South Dakota. Seven of our 31 governors have gone on to serve in Congress after governing South Dakota (Crawford, Norbeck, McMaster, Bulow, Bushfield, and Rounds went to the U.S. Senate; Janklow is the only South Dakota governor to win a U.S. House seat), but no one has served South Dakota in Congress and then come back to be our governor. These small examples from this week’s news indicate why making that switch is difficult. Noem hasn’t been in Pierre dealing with state-level policy since 2010. She’s completely missed the EB-5 and GEAR UP scandals that have prompted Sutton’s transparency push. She’s been reading the Boehner-Ryan script for four terms instead of forging her own state-level agenda. And now she’s facing a primary opponent who’s on the ground every day in South Dakota and better able to stay in touch with the Republican base in his work and his play.
Kristi Noem gone Washington—watch for that narrative to develop as we head for the primary.