By STEPHEN GROVES – Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — Ahead of a potential presidential bid, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem easily won the Republican nomination last week for a second term. However, many of the candidates she hoped to elect to the Statehouse did not have such a good night.
She had hoped to replace the Contrarians with personal allies in the Republican-controlled legislature, which has always defied her wishes, so the governor rallied around a dozen candidates who challenged the incumbents. Two-thirds of Noem’s favorites lost.
The setback served as a reminder that while endorsements often garner attention and financial resources, they don’t always translate into voter support. It’s a lesson that Donald Trump, Noem’s ally, is learning as he fails, especially in Georgia, to try to punish Republicans who have crossed paths with him. In the GOP primary last month, Georgia voters overwhelmingly backed Gov. Brian Kemp, who pushed back against Trump’s lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
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Trump has been trying to shake off his initial losses, but it’s unclear if Noem will be able to move forward so easily. Some incumbents who survived his efforts to defeat them wonder why a governor they support and generally agree with went to such lengths to try to oust them.
“There was a belief system that the party was a family — you don’t campaign against other members,” said state senator Al Novstrup, a longtime lawmaker who consistently scores high on the dashboards of conservative organizations. dramatically in this primary.
Noem entered the primary election with a somewhat strained relationship with Republican lawmakers. The results of the vote could only aggravate the tension. Those tenuous ties to the Legislature could raise further questions about his ability to make a competitive bid for the Republican presidential nomination as several candidates, including Trump, move to announce campaigns later this year.
She spent most of her first term crafting a vision for South Dakota as an example of conservative politics, tapping into militant fervor in what was widely seen as a play to be part of the conversation at the White House. But she also tempered her proposals by considering the operations of the state government and the business community.
That has fueled a row with some House Republicans in the Legislature over proposals targeting transgender children, exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine requirements and tax cuts. Even though his party held 90% of the legislative seats, Noem’s agenda sank this year. House lawmakers crippled his proposals and often dismissed his contribution.
They even openly criticized her.
A third of the House Republican caucus voted for an unsuccessful effort to publicly reprimand Noem for playing a hands-on role at a state agency as she assessed her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser’s license.
Among them was Republican Representative Fred Deutsch, who mostly supported the governor but said he votes according to his conscience. He had also fought with Noem before: his 2020 proposal to ban puberty blockers and gender confirmation procedures for transgender children under 16 was defeated in the Senate after Noem expressed reservations about the proposal.
As primary campaigns intensified in April, the governor publicly criticized Deutsch and threw his support behind a candidate she could trust — her childhood babysitter, Stephanie Sauder.
But Noem’s wishes in the primary race were only partially granted in the contest where two House candidates advanced among a field of four Republicans. Sauder received the most votes but Deutsch beat the other two candidates for the Republican nomination.
Noem got to see one of his most vocal Republican critics, House Speaker Spencer Gosch, as he challenged a state senator for the GOP nomination in that chamber. She also gained several other allies in the Legislative Assembly, including a former chief of staff.
His decision to wade into the primaries has not gone unnoticed by the grassroots groups driving the current division in the state GOP. Noem came under fire from conservative media after a newspaper report that she was working with State Senator Lee Schoenbeck, the acting president, to rid the Statehouse of some conservatives.
Sensing trouble ahead, Noem attempted to minimize the damage and maintain his ties with the Tories. The effort included a private meeting in mid-May at a church in Sioux Falls with a group called the Patriot Ripple Effect.
Noem seemed eager to convince the dozens of people who filled a conference room at church that she was like-minded. She highlighted her decision during the COVID-19 pandemic to waive statewide lockdowns and mask mandates despite widespread criticism and objections. She also applauded Republican lawmakers who pushed for broad vaccine exemptions, espousing a hands-off government approach that extends to businesses as much as individuals.
“They blew me up saying I was not conservative because I wouldn’t come and tell Sanford (the largest hospital system in the state) and tell big corporations they can’t demand vaccines. for their employees,” she said. “My response for them was, ‘You tell me as a government to tell them as a private company what to do.'”
His claims drew some applause. But their questions mostly challenged Noem, tackling his record throughout the 45-minute meeting. They wanted to know why she would target reliable conservative lawmakers?
“My babysitter is running for office. I like it,” she replied.
The group continued to press the issue, with one member pointing to Noem’s statement backing a Novstrup challenger, the state senator. Noem’s response suggested that his support for Rachel Dix was based more on personal connections than political ideology: “She’s a friend of mine and has been for years.”
As the first results crystallized, it became clear that the internal conflict within the party was not going away.
Rep. Tom Pischke, who belongs to the party’s hardline conservative wing and easily beat Noem’s pick for a state Senate seat, said he received a boost after being targeted by the allies of Noem. A letter even circulated among voters pointing out that Noem’s favorite candidate, Lisa Rave, was married to the state’s chief hospital systems lobbyist – a favorite target of some conservatives during the pandemic.
“It was the nail in the coffin for her,” Pischke said of the letter’s effect on her rival.
He added that the fallout from the race may even have spilled over to the governor’s standing among staunch conservatives: “It actually hurt Governor Noem a little bit,” he said.
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