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Varilek vs. Noem: No Contest, and Republicans Know It

In last night's debate on South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Rep. Kristi Noem gave us her smirky pout, her Palinesque ya knows, and submissive come-hither head tilt, but not much else. She repeats disproven lies with a straight face, then plays the victim by automatically labelling Varilek's truthful, substantiable criticisms of her non-record as lies and smears.

If Varilek sounds wonky, it is in part because he is wonky (an admirable quality in a legislator!). His wonkiness stands out all the more in contrast with Rep. Noem's complete inability to grapple with policy in any depth or detail beyond the talking points handed to her. As Mr. Ehrisman recognizes in his assessment of their previous debate, Varilek completely outclasses Noem in real policy knowledge and intelligence. Noem's only resort to win election is image.

Regular folks recognize the difference in the quality of the candidates. Over the last three months, Rep. Noem enjoyed the predictable fundraising advantage of an incumbent getting free national press. But over the last three months, Varilek raised almost twice as from individuals giving small donations. Folks giving under $200 gave Varilek $82,000; Rep. Noem attracted just $44,000 in such small donations. In overall individual donations, Rep. Noem's edge since July 1 was notably small, $309,000 to Varilek's $267,000. Only the big PACs are keeping Noem ahead of Varilek: she got $135,000 in PAC money, versus Varilek's $7,000.

Even Republicans ought to be able to recognize that Kristi Noem is not up to the job of Congresswoman. Staunch Republican blogger and professor Jon Schaaf thinks Rep. Noem will still win, but not because of any skills she's demonstrated:

I do not get a sense that Kristi Noem is beloved amongst South Dakotans (as John Thune is, or Tom Daschle once was), but my sense is that Varilek still has low name recognition and just will not be able to get over the hump. One thing we have seen over the last two years, though, is that Kristi Noem better get more serious about earning her legislative chops or one day there will be a different election environment with a higher quality challenger and she is going to get rude wake-up call.

In Congress, say the text books, there are three types of career paths that a member might take. One is that of craftsman of legislation. That's what Tim Johnson has done. The other is leadership. That is the path the Thune and Daschle paved. Lastly, there is constituency service. I think you could argue Tim Johnson has also filled this role. I still don't know which path Noem plans on taking [Jon Schaaf, "Actual South Dakota Politics," South Dakota Politics, October 18, 2012].

Read that last paragraph again: A good Republican looks at Kristi Noem's record and doesn't see clear evidence of crafting legislation, acting with leadership, or serving constituents.

That's why Rep. Kristi Noem and her mouthpiece blog spend much more time manufacturing attacks on Varilek than celebrating Noem's achievements in Washington. They can't point to any such achievements.

We South Dakotans weakened our voice and standing in Washington in 2010 by replacing a workhorse with a showhorse. We have a chance now to exactly reverse that mistake, send Kristi Noem back to the farm she loves, and send back to Washington an intelligent, hard-working leader who will do the hard work South Dakota needs.


  1. Dougal 2012.10.19

    Showhorse? Noem's a no-horse.

    Cory, your reference about a "good Republican" in South Dakota is important. Define a good Republican, and the answer is a frequent voting registered Republican who falls in line during the campaign and votes Republican 95 percent of the time.

    A "good Democrat" in South Dakota listens until they've made up their minds and chooses to "vote for the person" instead of party labels, but leans Democrat ... or chooses not to vote, which is what led to Stephanie's defeat much more than a third party candidate in 2010. In this cycle, I've noticed good Democrats are just not paying close attention to the election and I don't know what would remedy that at this point.

    I agree with your and Schaf's assessments. The race favors Noem, not because of anything positive or negative, but because there are enough "good Republicans" who fall in line.

  2. larry kurtz 2012.10.19

    Good eye, Cory.

    If the last two debates were about Noem's handlers to get her to "first, do no harm," she hasn't learned that at all well, either.

    Kristi's place-holding days could be numbered but why should she care? She's making over three grand a day, learning the lobbyist trade, and taking her negative net worth into the black at South Dakota's expense...all orchestrated by the afore-menschened Horsemen mostly-ably assisted by DWC.

    Wake the eff up, South Dakota.

  3. Rorschach 2012.10.19

    Kristi doesn't have a negative net worth Larry. Those financial disclosures congress members fill out are a total joke. If you look at Noem's report you might notice that it counts her liabilities as the full amount owed on joint debts with her husband, but on the assets side she only counts her half of the value of things. While it may be true that she's on the hook for the whole debt if her husband doesn't pay -it's not an accurate assessment of Kristi's net worth. She's loaded, but doesn't want it to appear she's loaded. It's fuzzy Republican accounting on that form.

  4. Rachel 2012.10.19

    I agree. Matt is wonky. And awesome. I voted for him 2 days ago.

    It feels a bit like revenge of the nerds, doesn't it? There's more of us than there are of them! :D

  5. mike 2012.10.19

    Noem is a liar and Varilek is liberal. Hard choices for South Dakota.

  6. mike 2012.10.19

    Tough words from Jon Schaff.

  7. Joe 2012.10.19

    I was surprised how off Noem looked. Most Republicans will admit that she won't win any intelligence contest, but she is usually good about looking good on camera, sounding sincere and getting her talking points in. I didn't think she did that, she sounded like an old hag, complaining, reaching at straws, and then flat out lying. I didn't think she looked good on camera either. I'm not shy on saying she ran one heck of a race in 2010, and she was able to hold her own on stage against SHS. She has ran a really bad campaign this year ,and hasn't held anything on stage with Varilek.

  8. Randolf 2012.10.19

    If Noem has run a bad campaign, has not done well in any of the debates and still wins, what does that tell one about Varilek. He must really be a loser.

  9. Joe 2012.10.19

    In a national GOP year (though only slightly), in a Presidential year, where the GOP has won every year since 1964, in a GOP state, an incumbent GOP member who has outraised 2-1, running against someone who has never ran state wide, and has little name recognition, should win by 25+ points. Anything less then 60% is a loss for her, because it means she won't be running for the Senate nomination in 2014.

  10. Dougal 2012.10.19

    Kristi Noem = Tracy Flick, without the conscience.

  11. Justin 2012.10.19

    It appears David Montgomery got slapped on the wrist for pointing out the idiocy of Noem's latest commercial yesterday. His "make up" article for his boss on the debate was shameful. It won't be long before he leaves the Argus, too. Unless he really does believe in saying that Noem was lying but did a great job in every post about her.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.19

    Good job handicapping the race, Joe. I won't celebrate anything but a Varilek win, but Varilek is a good, competitive candidate in a state and a race where Noem ought to be cruising.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.19

    And wow, Justin! Very interesting hypothesis about Montgomery's posts. I was just wondering about his freedom to opinionate from his blog. I can't substantiate that the articles you mention are an attempt at balance ordered by Randall Beck. But I assume that Beck maintains editorial control over his staff's blogs, and that must handcuff the writers to some extent.

    That said, Montgomery still provides some great information... and we don't have to jump the paywall to get it!

  14. Justin 2012.10.19

    All you have to do to work around the paywall is delete your cookies. It seems simplistic, but the same strategy works for the New York Times.

  15. Ken Santema 2012.10.20

    As I get closer to voting the SD US House race is the toughest for me.

    On one hand there is Matt. I actually respect him and believe he will work hard. That's the problem: I am opposed to what he stands for.

    On the other hand there is Kristi. She is more than a disappointment to both South Dakota and anyone that voted for her hoping she would advance the Tea Party cause. As a libertarian I can at least find some common ground with Tea Partiers. But alas she is not a true part of the Tea Party movement.

    So do I vote for the person I respect (but disagree with) or the person I don't respect. I really wish a third party had ran for the House in this election! I probably will vote Kristi.. only because I feel she will continue to be incompetent (and not adding further to the problem of big government).

  16. Joe 2012.10.20

    Ken. I understand where you are coming from but I question whether or not Kristi is a real conservative in the libertarian eyes. She was a member of the South Dakota legislature which voted for bloated budgets for the 4 years she was there. She supports the very large increases in the military and supports the House farm bill which has way more corporate welfare then the Senate version.

    I guess I just have problems with Noem claims to be a conservative, the only budgets she likes to cut are those social supports for low income folks. When it comes to corporate welfare she has no problem voting aye

  17. Joe 2012.10.20

    As far as Montgomery's comments on his blog. I just disagree, you can say Varilek didn't look good on the debate just because of graphics, I thought SDPB did a poor job, the audio all night was fluctuating among both candidates and the setup looked like a game show not a debate, and Varilek did have some problems of debating Kristi and not the camera a mistake some make. But substance alone he destroyed her. And I don't know what he was saying where Kristi looked good, and was able to get her suttle attacks in. I thought it looked like she forced it, and she was lying all night on issues, and looked angry. She didn't look good, and I said in 2010 she held her own on the debate stage, I thought she did alright at DakotaFest, but she did not look good in this debate.

  18. LK 2012.10.20


    You made some similar comments on your blog. I tend to prefer competent people that I disagree with to incompetent people that I may agree with.

    I believe that Schaaf's comments point to a reason to change your mind. Varilek will provide constituent services that Noem is unable or unwilling to provide.

    On the other hand, it probably doesn't matter. I have no doubt that the "R" behind Noem's name will be enough to keep her in office to ignore her constituents for another two years.

  19. Ken Santema 2012.10.20

    I agree with Joe (and others here) that Matt beat Kristi on the substance. I won't judge either on how they looked or acted, debating is not easy so I'll let that go. Even if I disagree with Matt I think he did a much better job getting his message through. That's why I cam here to see what Cory had to say, I wanted to see the liberal take on the debate (whats the point of only viewing blogs that you agree with, never learn anything that way).

    I usually would agree with you LK, that a competent person I disagree with is better than incompetence. And actually I can't find much I agree with in Kristi's issues, other than balancing the budget. Of course I don't really believe she cares about balancing the budget. Its just a matter of non-action may suit my needs better than action I disagree with. And as pointed out the R behind her name will probably get her elected.

    Reviewing my notes (tweets) of the debate on Thursday I think I am even more mad about our candidates now than I was during the debate. There really is no choice on the ballot for Libertarian or Republican voters. And now I'm even more mad at myself for considering a vote for someone I find incompetent. Its times like this South Dakota needs to add a "None of the above" option. Nevada has this option. Of course the Republican party there has been fighting the "none" option because they feel it will draw votes away from their candidates (what does that say about their candidates?)

  20. Justin 2012.10.20

    Ken, if Matt wins the GOP will have a better candidate in two years. If Kristi wins it will be her again.

  21. Ken Santema 2012.10.20

    Haha, ya know. Matt should should add that to his campaign: "If Kristi wins you won't get a good R candidate next time". It might actually work. Has me thinking about it.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.10.20

    Ken, if the Libertarians or someone else could mount a credible third party challenge, I would welcome it.

    Unless and until that happens, "None of the Above" is not a choice. We need to pick the best person for the job. As LK points out, constituent service is an important part of the job. Even if you're a libertarian, there will come times when you need your Congressperson to get you some information or some real assistance. Varilek can do that job better than Kristi.

    If that doesn't break the tie, consider this: President Obama is the smallest government spender since Eisenhower. Elect Varilek, and he'll support that agenda. Noem's non-action or facilitation of the Boehner-Norquist agenda will not serve your political ends better than Varilek's competence and seriousness about the job will.

    And yes, if you want to play chess, leaving Kristi on the board blocks the GOP from running much better candidates in 2014. Elect Varilek, and you get two years of good public service, followed by Republicans who come raring for a fight in 2014. Varilek will know those Republicans are coming, and he'll likely tack right/Blue Dog just like Herseth Sandlin did. That's the best you're going to get, Ken.

  23. larry kurtz 2012.11.14

    Tom Daschle rumored as new WH CoS. @jbendery

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