SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Rep. Kristi Noem, who swept into Congress on a Republican wave two years ago, defeated Democratic challenger Matt Varilek on Tuesday to win a second term as South Dakota's lone member of the U.S. House.
Noem, a 40-year-old rancher and former state lawmaker from Castlewood, drew national attention in 2010 when she defeated Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, then considered a rising star in the Democratic Party.
Noem went on to become a leader in the freshman class of Republican House members, and this year's election in many ways became a referendum on the competing policies of Democratic President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans.
Noem argued she deserved a second term because she fought hard to cut federal spending and protect farmers and ranchers from excessive federal regulations. She also said her background as a farmer and small business owner gave her an understanding of the issues facing most South Dakota residents.
Varilek, 37, a former member of Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson's staff, countered that he better understood the middle class because he worked to put himself through college, earning several degrees. He also said he'd know how to get things done in Congress because of his experience with Johnson, particularly as the senator's economic development director since 2007.
One of Varilek's main claims was that Noem had shirked her duties in Congress by missing House Agriculture Committee meetings and skipping other committee and subcommittee meetings. His catch phrase during the campaign became: "I'll show up."
Noem dismissed Varilek's attacks as "hogwash," saying she often had to miss Agriculture Committee hearings because she was in other committees or meeting with constituents. She said she hadn't "mastered the art of being in two or three places at the same time."
Varilek, of Sioux Falls, also criticized Noem for failing to get a House vote on a farm bill before Congress adjourned for the election. She said she'd done all she could.
Varilek was largely in a come-from-behind race from the start. Noem raised three times as much money for her campaign in a state where Republican voters far outnumber Democrats.
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