Kristi Noem wins second term as South Dakota governor
Resounding victory saw incumbent outperform even favorable polls
Gov. Kristi Noem greeting her mother, Corrine Arnold, before giving a victory speech upon her re-election. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
In the run-up to election day, Democrats in South Dakota believed they saw hopeful signs in the governor’s race.
An SDSU poll put Democratic candidate Jamie Smith within striking distance of incumbent Republican Gov. Kristi Noem. The Smith crew also pointed to internal polling that suggested a strong potential for the Sioux Falls lawmaker, who gave up his state House of Representatives seat to challenge Noem.
The will of the voters, however, aligned more closely with polling that put the governor 19 points ahead of Smith.
That poll, too, may have been off target. As of midnight, with the majority of precincts reporting, Noem led Smith by nearly 30 points.
The outcome of the race was never in question as results rolled in, but West River broke hard for the incumbent. Noem outperformed in both counties she’d won four years ago against Democrat Billie Sutton and those where that race was tighter.
In Codington County – Noem’s home territory – she earned nearly 68% of the vote. In 2018, she won the county with 55%.
Noem credited her commitment to a hands off COVID-19 response, a low tax environment, her positions on transgender athletes and other social issues such as a more patriotic social studies curriculum standards as drivers of her victory.
South Dakota, Noem told supporters at the Hilton Garden Inn in Sioux Falls, has become a standard-bearer for conservative governance.
“In states across the country, they’re electing Republican governors, because they want what South Dakota has,” said Noem, speaking at a podium bearing a seal that read “Kristi Noem: America’s Governor.”
The governor also gave herself a boost with ad spending in the final weeks of the campaign, one where she’d ultimately outspend her opponent 6-to-1. The former U.S. representative for South Dakota lobbed accusations of extreme liberalism at Smith in ads that sought to tie the Democrat to the policies of President Joe Biden.
“The nation that is unfolding around us is Joe Biden’s” Noem said. “It’s not the nation that I want to leave to my kids or grandkids … there’s violence and crime on our streets in America, our border is overrun with drugs and human trafficking, and it’s reaching all the way here to South Dakota.”
Smith called Noem to concede just before taking the stage at The District in Sioux Falls to address his supporters at a Democratic watch party. He was the last of the statewide Democratic candidates to speak, on a night when each fell to their Republican opponent.
“While the election didn’t go the way we wanted, I have offered to work with Gov. Noem on behalf of South Dakota for the next four years,” Smith said. “I truly hope that she’s able to build a stronger, more welcoming, more prosperous South Dakota in this next term.”
The candidate apologized to those whose futures, he said, “depended so much on the outcome of this election.”
“But know this: just because we did not achieve victory tonight, the values we fought for and the movement we started will not end here.”
Noem also referenced the concession call in the waning moments of her stem-winder of a victory speech.
“Jamie and I had a very different vision for our state,” she said. “Tonight our vision of less government and more freedom won the day. Thank you for trusting me.”
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Kristi Noem’s home county
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