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Gov. Kristi Noem trounces Jamie Smith in South Dakota governor's race

In her victory speech, Noem focused on working together and finding common ground in the wake of what has been, at times, a campaign characterized by harsh rhetoric.

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at her victory rally in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, after she won a second term.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Republican Kristi Noem trounced her opponents to secure a second term as governor of South Dakota on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

"We are going to keep proving what South Dakota can do over the next four years," Noem said in a victory speech, focusing on her handling of the pandemic and the impact of those choices on the economy.

As of 12:30 a.m., Noem led Democrat Jamie Smith by a margin of 63.5% - 33.7%. Libertarian Tracey Quint has also received 2.8% of the vote counted to this point.

In her speach, Noem focused on working together and finding common ground in the wake of what has been, at times, a campaign characterized by harsh rhetoric.

"We will continue to respect people around us," Noem said. "That respect is crucial to the foundation of American civil society. Our form of government is meant to be thoughtful and deliberative."

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In his remarks after the result, Smith, the former House minority leader, echoed that message. He said that, in a phone call conceding to Noem, he "offered to work with Gov. Noem on behalf of South Dakota for the next four years."

In the first part of her speech, Noem laid out what some of these deliberations in the coming legislative session might look like: cutting the grocery tax, which she said would return around $100 million to taxpayers each year, addressing childcare regulations and addressing a lack of paid family leave.

"We have the money," Noem said, "It isn't our money, it's the people's, so let's give it back to them."

She pointed to strong October tax collection numbers — which showed sales tax receipts of $80 million over projections four months into the fiscal year — as further proof that the state could afford to return these dollars to the taxpayers. More exact projections and policy prescriptions will become available at the governor's budget address in early December.

Noem said the state would continue “setting an example” for the rest of the nation, both in terms of its values and economic outcomes.

The first woman to serve as the top executive in South Dakota, Noem rose to national prominence during her first term due to her comparatively less restrictive handling of the pandemic.

“Here in South Dakota, we protected your constitutional rights. I trusted in you to use personal responsibility and take care of each other,” Noem said about her response to the pandemic during a rally on Nov. 2.

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem
Contributed

A central part of Noem’s campaign was an October promise to cut the state’s 4.5% tax on groceries, a source of about $110 million in revenue, according to the Legislative Research Council. Smith also supports cutting this “regressive” tax; while Noem in the past voted against this cut, she said the improving state of the economy led her to change her mind.

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Smith had criticized Noem for, among other things, leveraging that national profile to travel throughout the country on speaking engagements.

“The promise I’ll make is that I'll get up every morning thinking what can we do to make South Dakota a better place today in the future,” Smith, a Sioux Falls native, said. “And with that attitude, and that change of paradigm, South Dakota will be a better state.”

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Rep. Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls
Contributed / Johnny Sundby

However, Noem’s campaign questioned the bipartisan bona fides of Smith. They employed a slew of campaign advertisements to hammer Smith on his purported “extremism,” pointing to his support for an indoor mask mandate and a “red-flag law” for potential confiscation of firearms.

While Smith pushed back against the framing, Noem had the war chest to prosecute the case across the airwaves, spending more than $4.7 million between May 22 and Oct. 19. In comparison, Smith spent just over $800,000 in the same period.

Smith's campaign focused on a promise to work together and improve communication in state government, which he said had broken down under the Noem administration.

The governor of South Dakota serves a four-year term. The current annual salary of the position is just over $128,000.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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