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Kristi Noem’s on a Political Rocket Ship. But Don’t Rule Out a Crash.


Politics

Kristi Noem’s on a Political Rocket Ship. But Don’t Rule Out a Crash.

“She’s not the governor that people think she is,” said Taffy Howard, a state representative and conservative hard-liner who has clashed with Noem and is challenging Dusty Johnson, the state’s Republican congressman, in his House primary this year.

“Everybody’s like, ‘We love your governor, she didn’t shut down your state,’” Howard said. “It’s the conservatives in the House that did not shut down the state … We forced her into a corner.”

“She is very much a politician. She goes whichever way the wind blows,” Howard said.

Howard’s view of Noem is now in the minority. The governor’s approval rating among Republicans in South Dakota, according to Morning Consult, jumped 8 percentage points last year, to 86 percent. And after nearly two years of watching her resist lockdowns — including some proposed by Republicans — her credibility on the conservative approach to Covid appears firm. In Sioux Falls, the Republican mayor, Paul TenHaken, who publicly called for a shelter-in-place order in 2020, putting him at odds with Noem, began a conversation with me by saying, “I’m not interested in engaging in any hit piece on our governor.”

“I think in some areas of the country, there’s almost a jealousy that creeps in: ‘We have to wear masks and we have to do this stuff, so you do, too,’” TenHaken said. “In South Dakota, we are a fairly humble state, and so when someone like our governor gets national attention and starts to get the spotlight on her … there are some people who don’t like that.”

“She is one tough lady, because that lady gets more crap thrown her way than any politician I’ve ever seen at her level. It’s been a tough year, and she’s just resilient.”

Paul TenHaken, Republican mayor of Sioux Falls

He said, “She is one tough lady, because that lady gets more crap thrown her way than any politician I’ve ever seen at her level. It’s been a tough year, and she’s just resilient.”

To TenHaken, there is more to Noem than Covid. He described her as a “woman of faith,” a “woman of values,” and a politician who “has a…



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