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Kristi Noem to be South Dakota’s first female governor

November 7, 2018
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FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2018 file photo, South Dakota Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, a candidate for governor, speaks during a gubernatorial debate with Democratic challenger Sen. Billie Sutton in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Briana Sanchez/The Argus Leader via AP, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Republican Rep. Kristi Noem overcame an unusually strong Democratic challenge to win the South Dakota governor’s race Tuesday, becoming the first woman elected to the office in the state’s history.

Noem, a four-term congresswoman, said it’s “pretty humbling” to be elected the state’s first female governor, but that it wasn’t a big focus during the race against Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton. Instead, she drew on her farming and ranching background and congressional achievements — including passing GOP tax cuts — to claim the historic victory.

“I feel relieved,” Noem told The Associated Press. “We worked hard and shared my vision for the state, and I’m just very grateful that the people of South Dakota put their trust in me to be their next governor.”

Sutton’s strong campaign gave Democrats rare hope in a statewide election. He cast himself as a moderate, with pro-gun and anti-abortion stances that made him palatable to many Republican voters, to push Noem hard to the finish. His unusual life story — former rodeo cowboy who turned to politics after a paralyzing injury — brought him added attention.

Noem replaces replace term-limited Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Sutton — a self-described “pro-life and pro-Second Amendment” moderate — cast himself as an anti-corruption crusader who would buck the status quo in the wake of financial misconduct scandals that grabbed South Dakota headlines.

Noem reminded voters that Sutton is a Democrat and tried to tie him to 2016 Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. She also asserted — over Sutton’s denials — that he backs a state income tax for South Dakota, one of seven states without it.

“If Billie believed everything that he said in this campaign, he’d be a Republican, but he’s not. He’s a Democrat,” Noem said during a late October debate.

She has promised to protect state residents from tax increases and more government regulations, improve state transparency and fight federal government intrusion. Noem said her experience helped her win, and now her priorities are focusing on education, filling workforce needs and dealing with public safety issues.

Ramona Rupp, a Republican from Sioux Falls, said she supported Noem based on the congresswoman’s experience and because she seems like a hard worker. The 64-year-old retiree said she hopes Noem keeps her promise not to raise taxes.

“I just feel it’s time to get more females involved, too,” said Rupp, noting, though, that her vote is based on the best candidate, not on gender. “There’s always room for change, and, you know, she’s proven herself over and over.”

Noem, who has roots in ranching and farming, brought major strengths to the race: a nearly 100,000-voter GOP advantage, experience running statewide campaigns and support from the state’s dominant political party and its top officials. She also significantly outraised and outspent Sutton.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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