South Dakota candidates rally base ahead of Election Day

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem planned a Monday reelection rally featuring a video message from former President Donald Trump in a final push to turn out voters in the heavily-Republican western part of the state, while her Democratic challenger, state lawmaker Jamie Smith, focused on the state’s largest city in a bid to make the race competitive by winning big in his hometown of Sioux Falls.

The dueling campaign rallies on Monday evening centered on the areas where each candidate is expecting to draw large numbers of voters. For Noem, it was in Rapid City, near where she held an Independence Day fireworks celebration in 2020 that featured Trump. For Smith, it was at Sioux Falls’ Washington Pavillion, where he once attended high school before the building was converted into an event center.

Republicans have nearly doubled Democrats on voter roles in South Dakota, but Smith said he was hoping to carry Sioux Falls with enough votes to buoy his chances of an upset on Election Day. A Democrat has not won the South Dakota governor’s office since the 1970s.

“We’re working hard to find those some-time voters to make sure they get out the vote,” Smith said, adding that he planned to keep knocking on doors and making phone calls with less than 24 hours to go before polls opened.

Noem has spent a historic amount of money in the race, filling TV airtime with ads that touted her hands-off approach to business closures and mask-wearing mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has outspent Smith nearly 6-to-1.

Running as a moderate, he said he has tried to “stay as positive as we can” amid a slew of campaign ads from Noem that targeted him as an ally to President Joe Biden and called him “extreme.”

Smith said his Monday evening rally message would lean on the advice he used to give as a wrestling coach: “You just need to stick with your plan, keep a calm mind, and then work as hard today and tomorrow as we’ve worked the entire rest of the way. And at the end of the day, we will have the outcome that people choose.”

During her term as the state’s first female governor, Noem has repeatedly positioned the state — and herself — in the national spotlight. She allied herself closely with Trump, perhaps most visibly by holding a massive fireworks celebration featuring the former president at Mount Rushmore in 2020.

The national attention has fueled speculation that Noem could be angling for a White House bid in 2024, though she has said she plans to serve another four years in the governor’s office. She has defended her frequent out-of-state trips to attend conservative events as an effort to attract businesses to the state and bolster its economy. South Dakota, with a population of under 1 million, has also seen an influx of new residents attracted to its low cost of living and conservative politics.

Noem, however, has suggested that she is facing a close race with Smith this year because many of the state’s longtime residents are not as appreciative of her political style.

“This race is close because of people that have lived here forever that are taking our freedom for granted,” she told the crowd at a rally last week.

Noem’s campaign spokesman, Ian Fury, said that the campaign is trying to remind people to get to the polls.

“As long as Republicans show up and vote for Gov. Noem we’ll do great,” he said.

Noem spent early Monday attending smaller gatherings in Watertown and Sioux Falls before heading west to Rapid City. Her appearances have drawn full houses to cafes and diners as she has toured the state in recent days.

South Dakota voters were also deciding Tuesday whether to send a pair of incumbents, Sen. John Thune and Rep. Dusty Johnson, back to Washington. They will also vote on legalizing recreational marijuana and expanding Medicaid eligibility through a pair of ballot measures.