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Cat Fight in South Dakota

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Kristi Noem has been dubbed the “next Sarah Palin,” but she’s keen on distancing herself from that title.

“I respect Sarah Palin and her service as Governor of Alaska and as the Vice Presidential nominee in 2008,” said Noem in an interview. “A lot of people have tried to put labels on me, but right now I’m focused on being Kristi Noem and getting my message out to South Dakotans.”

Noem is the Republican candidate in South Dakota’s lone House race, and is polling dead even with her opponent, Stephani Herseth Sandlin, who has held the seat since 2004. Noem’s got movie star looks, and a picturesque life to go with it: her family’s cattle ranch sits in Castlewood, South Dakota, which boasts a total population of just under 670. She had her first child in her early twenties, and now has three teenage children who have been helping on the campaign trail.

Her opponent, Herseth Sandlin, is bit of a darling as well. Herseth Sandlin’s grandfather served as governor of South Dakota, and her grandmother was Secretary of State. Her husband is a former congressman from Texas, and her pleasant speaking style is backed up with charming blond locks and moderate political views.

Herseth Sandlin has maintained her grip on the House seat by all but removing the “Democrat” title from next to her name, which is the only way a Democrat would fly in this +10 Republican state. She’s voted against the health care bill, the stimulus packages, and just about everything else that this year’s Democratic Congress has put forward. But she has cast a vote for Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House, which is a major liability this cycle.

“I think that our message of stopping reckless spending and debt, extending the tax cuts, and stopping the regulations that are burdening our small businesses has really resonated with a lot of people,” said Noem. “South Dakotans realize that Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin has changed. She is a loyal vote for Nancy Pelosi when they need her most.”

There’s also the money: Noem collected a cool $1.1 million haul in September, dwarfing her opponent’s $500,000. It’s possible Herseth Sandlin wasn’t giving her fundraising as much attention, because until last month, she expected to have a pretty easy re-election process. Then, Noem started gaining steam.

“We are going to continue to focus on the issues important to South Dakotans like spending, the economy, extending the tax cuts, and repealing the health care bill,” said Noem, who has built her campaign by playing up her grassroots conservative appeal. If she comes out on top, she’s more than ready to stick by those principles throughout her first term in office.

“I think the Republican Party has learned from the mistakes of the past and with the help of a lot of new blood that is likely to come into Congress this November we will be dedicated to fiscal conservatism, shrinking the size of government and trying to preserve the future for our children,” she said.

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