COVID-19 response to be a feature issue of the South Dakota gubernatorial election

Governor Kristi Noem rose to national prominence in large part due to her response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is set to be one of her key issues heading into her re-election bid.
Gov. Kristi Noem & Rep. Jamie Smith are running for governor of South Dakota in 2022.
Gov. Kristi Noem & Rep. Jamie Smith are running for governor of South Dakota in 2022.(Dakota News Now)
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 9:25 PM MDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - The COVID-19 pandemic continues to linger over the lives of South Dakotans, and is set to be a major factor heading into the South Dakota gubernatorial election this November.

Recently, both major party candidates for Governor have attempted to bolster their resumes on their responses to the pandemic, and set themselves apart from the other.

In her first ad of the election cycle, which aired nationally, Governor Kristi Noem drew particular attention to her hands-off approach to the pandemic.

“I held the reins and refused to let fear steal our freedom,” Noem says in the ad.

Despite having the most hands-off approach to the pandemic of any governor in the country, Noem has elicited detractors on the right who believe that she did too much at the height of the pandemic.

“In South Dakota especially, you really have to find that sweet spot that allows you to have an opportunity to stake a position out later,” retired University of South Dakota Political Science Professor Michael Card said in an interview.

It is detractors on both sides of Noem’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that Democratic challenger Jamie Smith is looking to appeal to ahead of November.

Smith recently attended a meeting of the “Citizens for Liberty” group in Rapid City, a hardline conservative group that featuring many anti-Noem members.

“My stance on mask mandates was that I didn’t think there was a one size fits all approach for South Dakota, I thought it should be left up to the local and county level,” Smith said to attendees at the event.

But Smith’s response early on in the pandemic is not in line with the sentiment of his statement. Amongst other actions, Smith co-sponsored SB 125 during the 2021 state legislative session, which would have allowed for the implementation of a statewide mask mandate.

In a statement, Governor Noem’s campaign spokesperson Ian Fury said that, “Governor Noem has made clear many times that mask mandates are not effective at stopping the spread of the virus. Representative Smith is finally realizing that, which why he is lying about his record.”

“Now that we’ve learned more about this once-in-a-century pandemic, my thinking has shifted on the issue,” Smith explained in a statement. “I believe decisions on masking should be decided at the local level through cities, towns, counties, and individuals. Now that the pandemic is over, it is time to move on from masks and focus on governing.”

“This event and the response (by Smith) is an attempt to get ahead of the Noem campaign on a topic that that wasn’t focused on in their first web page hit,” said Card. “He is trying to find a way to appeal to the Republican base in South Dakota who may be on the edge for either candidate.”

The two candidates will face off in the first and only debate of the gubernatorial election cycle on September 30th, on Dakota News Now and KOTA Territory News.

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