South Dakota's Noem shores up support with Youngkin, Gabbard

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem was looking to shore up support for her South Dakota reelection bid Wednesday through a series of campaign rallies with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Noem has risen to national prominence within the GOP during her term as the state's first female governor but has shown some signs of political vulnerability, even in reliably-red South Dakota. The Republican governor has outspent her Democratic opponent, state lawmaker Jamie Smith, in the race by nearly six-to-one.

Noem crisscrossed between the state's largest cities for three rallies Wednesday. Smith, meanwhile, embarked on an RV tour that will circle the state in the week leading up to election day.

Noem's choice of campaign surrogates — Youngkin who won election in a trending-blue Virginia last year and Gabbard who recently left the Democratic Party — suggested she was trying to appeal to moderate voters. Noem doesn't plan to attend a Thursday rally with former President Donald Trump just over the Iowa border in Sioux City, her campaign spokesman said.

Noem allied herself closely with the former president during the COVID-19 pandemic and derided mandating business closures or masks. The position earned her national attention in the GOP, and she has staked out right-wing positions on abortion and education.

Smith has run a moderate with a record of working with Republicans in the state House of Representatives, where he led a caucus of just eight Democratic members.

He cast Noem's rallies as a sign she was “ worried" and another example of her “nationalizing” the race. Noem has continuously tried to tie Smith to President Joe Biden and call him “too extreme” for South Dakota — a state where voter rolls have almost twice as many Republicans as Democrats.

Smith has countered by accusing Noem of being more focused on national ambitions than her job at home.

“We continue to do what we’ve done all along and that’s focus on South Dakota,” he told The Associated Press.

Noem has generated speculation she could mount a 2024 White House bid, though she says she plans to serve four more years as governor if reelected.

Youngkin, meanwhile, has become a frequent presence at Republican campaigns nationwide and is seen as another rising figure in the GOP.

Gabbard sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination but defected from the Party this year. She has campaigned for Republican candidates in a number of swing states, including South Carolina, Arizona, Michigan and Nevada, during the midterm election.

Stephen Groves, The Associated Press