Here's a news story from last week on Matt Varilek, the Democratic challenger to Kristi Noem. It features some quotes by my favorite political scientist, me. I should note that when I say in the article that Kristi Noem is not responsible for the farm bill I mean that she is not the floor manager of the bill, unlike Tom Daschle and the ethanol issue from the 2004 election. But I think the article gives some of the strengths and weaknesses of Varilek as a candidate.
The only poll we've seen on this race (someone correct me if I am wrong) is the Nelson poll that Ken posted here. That poll had Noem up by almost six. Given that the Nelson poll had the governor race neck and neck two years ago, I am not sure I believe this number. 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.