HURON — With less than a month to go, Kristi Noem says the gubernatorial election battle is like no other, with outside money pouring into the state and national Democratic activists on the ground in South Dakota working to elect Billie Sutton.
“That’s the machine that we’re fighting,” she said at the weekly Beadle County Republican Party campaign luncheon on Monday.
“They’re not just coming after me,” Noem said. “I’d say every single Republican that was in a parade this weekend in Vermillion felt it.”
Noem, the state’s lone member of Congress for the past eight years, is running against Sutton, a state senator from Burke since 2010.
A former legislator who has never lost a race, Noem said this year’s election cycle is a “totally different environment. And Republicans have not been as active as we need to be. So 2018 is a big deal. It really is.”
She called on the party faithful at the well-attended luncheon to step forward one more time to help her campaign by making phone calls and displaying yard signs. “We’ve got an uphill battle,” she said. “I’m going to need your help.”
But she also said her team has the momentum going into the final weeks before Election Day.
“And the reason we have momentum is we’re right on all the issues,” Noem said.
She acknowledged that Sutton, a former rodeo star who was paralyzed in an accident, has a powerful personal story to share with voters.
“The problem is the way that he thinks and what he believes and what he has voted for is wrong for South Dakota,” she said.
One of the reasons the state can attract outside companies to come to South Dakota is because of its low tax rate and the federal tax cuts of last winter that are leading to refunds for utility customers, she said.
“We made sure that those tax cuts were going to make a big difference in our economy,” Noem said.
The growth in the national gross domestic product is because of what’s happening at the administrative level, she said. The state needs to do the same, she said.
But she said South Dakota has been treading water for a few years, and the governor needs to be out front working to bring in businesses and giving people the opportunity to get the training they need to work at higher-paying jobs.
She said she is making sure her campaign is telling the truth about the candidates and their differences.
“You’re picking someone who’s going to be the CEO of South Dakota,” Noem said. “That’s a big deal. I would think you would want to put someone in that job who has actually run a business.
“This race is very, very different when it comes to the experience level to hit the ground running,” she said.
“We’re not used to these kinds of races,” Noem said. “Usually at this time the Republican candidate maybe would be up by 10 or 15 points. But we’re in a totally different environment. We’ve got trade wars doing on, we’ve got a national environment that’s definitely impacting us here in South Dakota.”
Noem said she is reminding voters that governors appoint judges, too. There is likely to be two Supreme Court judges appointed in South Dakota under the next administration.
“You put a liberal in the governor’s office and you could very well change our way of life in South Dakota,” she said.
Noem said she chose state Rep. Larry Rhoden, a Union Center rancher, to be her running mate because he has lengthy legislative experience and can make politically difficult decisions.
“I wanted somebody in that position that understood that the job wasn’t going to be about them, that it was going to be about serving people,” she said.
In answer to a question about the trade wars and commodity prices, Noem said President Trump had seen that the United States had been treated unfairly for decades.
“He decided to go to war to get us more fair agreements; the problem we have is that he did it after four years of depressed prices already,” she said.
“So we already had farm income cut in half because of low commodity prices and then to go into this trade war at this time is pretty devastating,” Noem said.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Noem earlier Monday he would come to South Dakota in the next 10 days to have a roundtable discussion on agriculture issues. She said she was also hoping the president would talk about it during his Iowa appearance today.
The preliminary agreement with Canada and Mexico will help because 70 percent of U.S. commodities go to those countries. Now, Asia Pacific markets need to be reopened to help with soybean prices, she said.
She has also told the president that if E15 ethanol-blend gas can be sold year-round, it would mean another $1 billion bushels of corn for ethanol, raising corn prices and allowing farmers to store their soybeans and remain in business until the trade battle with China is resolved.