SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Republican Rep. Kristi Noem said Monday she will vote for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump despite the release of a video that captured Trump making predatory sexual comments about women a decade earlier.
But at the first debate for South Dakota’s sole U.S. House seat, Noem and Democratic challenger state Rep. Paula Hawks avoided the stinging character attacks that have consumed the presidential contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton, instead largely focusing on policy issues ranging from agriculture to energy, health care to creating better-paying jobs.
Noem, calling Trump’s comments “horrific,” hasn’t joined U.S. Sen. John Thune and Gov. Dennis Daugaard in urging Trump to exit the race in favor of Mike Pence, his running mate. Trump said he would sign Republican policy proposals into law, Noem said, dubbing both candidates “very flawed.”
“If Hillary Clinton ends up being president, boy am I going to be a check and balance to her administration,” Noem said. “If Donald Trump gets elected president, I’m going to send him conservative legislation that he can sign into law.”
Hawks said she supports Clinton, citing her experience and professionalism, even though they disagree on some topics. The second-term Democratic state representative from Hartford is running to block Noem from returning to Congress for a fourth term, arguing that the state is “primed” for a change in leadership.
“I have voted in the best interest of my constituents and the state of South Dakota,” she said. “That includes opportunities that I’ve had to toe the line as far as party loyalty is concerned, voting in the interests of the consumer rather than in the interests of the Democratic party.”
Hawks cited her experience as an “endangered species” outnumbered by Republicans in the state Legislature as a testament to her ability to work across the aisle.
But, she and Noem did disagree on some traditionally divisive issues. Hawks said President Barack Obama’s health overhaul should be improved, not thrown out, and that South Dakota should expand Medicaid. Noem called for the Affordable Care Act’s repeal, criticizing the Obama administration on government regulations, health care and immigration.
Noem had a substantial financial lead in the race as of the latest campaign finance reporting deadline. She had roughly $1.75 million in the bank to wage a campaign, compared to Hawks’ roughly $152,500 on hand.
Noem, first elected after she beat incumbent Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in 2010, won against her Democratic challenger in 2014 by more than 30 percentage points.