She is a gun-toting, elk-hunting, dark-haired conservative. Some might say she even has a hint of a you-betcha twang to her voice. Sound familiar?
"She" is U.S. House candidate Kristi Noem (pronounced "gnome") from South Dakota, "a rancher, a mother of three, and a staunch conservative who is running on a platform of slashing federal spending and repealing the new federal health care law," as ABC puts it in a recent profile. But while many will draw comparisons to her and Sarah Palin, she's out to prove she is her own person, and hopes a win in November will solidify her own legacy.
"We're going forward making sure we're focused on the people here at home," Noem tells ABC. "I want them to know who I am and what I believe we should be doing and should be accomplishing rather than focusing on somebody else from out of state."
That message seems to be reaching her intended audience. Noem has raised more than $1.1 million in the 3rd quarter, nearly twice the amount of her incumbent opponent, Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin. Noem has $777,000 cash on hand, compared to Herseth-Sandlin's $500,000. No other Republican House challenger, as of right now, has raised more this quarter ABC says.
Noem is no stranger to politics. She was elected to the South Dakota state House of Representatives in the fall of 2006 and currently serves as the Assistant Majority Leader. She's also no stranger to the down-home life of her constituents. Her family lives on a ranch where they raise Angus cattle and show Quarter Horses. She's worked the family farm for 17 years, owned and operated a hunting operation, and helped manage the family restaurant, her website says. She even boasts being treasurer of the state soybean association.
While all South Dakotans can't be characterized as ranchers and farmers, Noem's ability to connect with state's generally working-class residents can't be overstated. Her approach seems to be as a wife and mother who just happens to be a politician. Her campaign ads reflect that:
Regarding her opponent, Noem characterizes Herseth-Sandlin's as a Democratic establishment candidate. "She is voting with Nancy Pelosi 9 out of 10 times," Noem tells ABC. Vote for Herseth-Sandlin, she says, and you vote for Pelosi.
The latest polling numbers have Noem up by three points, close enough for Real Clear Politics to call it a toss up. But three points ahead is a drastically different from when she was down 15 points in April.
Noem's increase in popularity has had its hiccups. She has been criticized lately not as much for her policies as for her driving record. When KELO-TV reported that she has had 20 speeding tickets and other traffic violations in the past two decades, and two warrants were issued for her arrest for failures to appear in court, she went from being nine points up to being two points down.
Noem tells ABC she is "not proud" of her driving record. Herseth-Sandlin has seized the issue, using it to question Noem's judgment.
"I think that it indicates that she doesn't deem it necessary to abide by the limits that everyone else tries to abide by," Herseth-Sandlin tells ABC. "If you can't responsibly take care of your own business, I think it calls into question the level of responsibility you take in other matters."
That will ultimately be up to the district's voters to decide. For now, the lead-footed, law-breaking Noem is losing to the down-home, budget-slashing, mom-rancher Noem. And if the numbers hold, it will be the latter Noem that beats Herseth-Sandlin come November.