SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Shortly after U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem rolled to the Republican nomination for South Dakota governor, she urged the party to unite behind her “bold vision” in a speech that made no mention of her chance to become the state’s first female governor.
The victory Tuesday night followed a campaign against Attorney General Marty Jackley in which Noem declined to play up her gender, instead focusing on her farming and ranching background and negotiating the GOP’s federal tax cuts with President Donald Trump. And there’s no indication Noem will change course in a campaign where she already is the front-runner.
Noem said she’s focused on what she wants to get done, not about the historic step for South Dakota women her victory would represent.
“It seems to me that people supported me last night based on my background, my experience and my vision for the state,” Noem said Wednesday. “Sure, it would be incredibly special to be the first female governor, but I also think that people are supporting me because of the person that I am and what I bring to the table.”
Marguerite McPhillips, president of the South Dakota Federation of Republican Women, said she’s “very delighted” to be able to vote for a woman in the fall but doesn’t expect Noem to start making a big deal of it now.
“I think she’ll win on other issues. I don’t think it’ll be because she would be the first woman governor,” said McPhillips, who declined to say whom she supported in the primary. “Kristi has some great ideas, and she’s strong, and so it’ll be a good governorship, and I’m looking forward to it.”
In the primary, some of Noem’s advertising dovetailed with the #MeToo movement, with spots criticizing Jackley for denying a grievance from a former state agent who won a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit last year after a colleague harassed her. The ads took aim at Jackley’s tough-on-crime credentials as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
South Dakota State University political science professor Lisa Hager said it’s likely Noem didn’t focus on the issue in part because women tend to fare better in politics emphasizing their experience.
“Rather than ... focusing on ‘Hey, I can be the first woman to hold this position,’ it was better for Kristi to really hammer on why she’s qualified to hold that position to, hopefully, try to get away from any sort of stereotypes anyone might have,” Hager said.
The Republican Governors Association highlighted Noem’s victory in a Wednesday tweet about Republicans nominating “three dynamic female candidates for governor” in Alabama, Iowa and South Dakota. The Center for American Women and Politics says a record number of major party women filed to run for governor in the U.S. this year.
Noem is the favorite in the race against Democrat Billie Sutton, a state senator and former professional rodeo cowboy, in South Dakota’s November election. She defeated incumbent Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in 2010 for the state’s congressional seat and won three more times before running for governor.
Noem, a rancher, farmer and small business owner, has brought women-focused legislation in the U.S. House before. That includes a measure Trump signed into law last year requiring the U.S. to create a strategy to boost women’s participation in negotiating peace and preventing conflict. But Noem said she generally believes there aren’t really “women’s issues,” just a woman’s perspective on every issue.
“We look at things a little bit differently, and that perspective is incredibly important to have good policy,” Noem said.
In the South Dakota governor’s race, Sutton said he thinks it’s important that “we focus on the best person for the job.”
“It’s a choice of the status quo and politics as usual in the congresswoman, versus change and a better direction, which is me,” Sutton said.
PHOTO BY BRIANA SANCHEZ/THE ARGUS LEADER VIA AP
Kristi Noem gives her acceptance speech after winning the Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday in downtown Sioux Falls.