An ad launched on social media in June by Kristi Noem still has people talking — and speculating about whether she might be setting her sights on an office higher than Governor of South Dakota.
The ad, titled “Saddle Up,” featured Noem in full rancher regalia, galloping across vast expanses of prairie with rolling green hills extending as far as the eye — or camera lens — can see.
In the voice-over, she recalled the hard times her family faced when her father died at age 49 in a tragic accident.
“I lost my hero, and we nearly lost our livelihood,” she said
“Through grit, and God’s grace, we kept going, and our ranch was saved.”
That segued into the strong stand Noem took against COVID lockdowns during the “dark days” of 2020 and 2021.
“As Dad always said, we don’t complain about things; we fix them.
“And we did,” Noem said. “I held the reins and refused to let fear steal our freedom. And today, we’ve hit our stride. South Dakota has the best economy in the nation. We’re number one in tourism, and more families are choosing to make our state home than ever before.
“Here, freedom funs free. So saddle up … we’re just getting started.”
It’s perfectly natural for a state governor running for re-election to run such a compelling ad. But what raised eyebrows in the larger political arena was where the ads ran: “not just to voters in her own state, but to the people living in key presidential primary states including New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa,” the New York Post observed.
When asked directly about presidential aspirations, the Post said, Noem was “coy.”
“When people ask me that, I don’t know what to say,” she said, according to the Post. “I’m not convinced that it has to be me. I think there’s a lot of people interested in running for president but … I certainly would never say that I wouldn’t run.”
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser discussed the ad campaign and Noem’s intentions in July. “Political pundits view Noem, who’s a strong supporter and ally of former President Donald Trump, as a potential Trump running mate if the former president launches another White House run in 2024,” he wrote. “And they see the conservative governor as a presidential contender if Trump decides against seeking the White House again.”
The ad campaign has also caught the attention of her political opponents and the liberal news media. Kevin Woster of South Dakota Public Broadcasting wrote an opinion piece questioning whether claims of Noem’s family suffering financially were exaggerated and whether the South Dakota economy is the best in the nation.
And, he pointed out, the spectacular rangeland Noem gallops across in the ad is a far cry from her family’s property.
“She used to call it a farm, and sometimes a ranch, but lately has settled on ranch,” Woster wrote. “I guess it fits better with the image she wants to project these days.”
Woster also described “attack ads” that Noem’s Democratic opponent, Jamie Smith, has run, focusing on the much-talked-about “Saddle Up” ad campaign.
Smith’s ad showed “a couple of apparent good ol’ boys — the younger variety — bellied up to a bar and watching the saddle-up ad on a TV set above and behind the bar.”
“… [T]he exchange goes:
“She ain’t really galloping for governor.
“Why’d you say that?
“Fox News says she’s running ads all over the country.
“Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.
“South Carolina? Why would she do that?
“She’s running for national office.
“She don’t care much for South Dakota.”
Then it’s back to the same office with Smith, who says:
“What about us? it’s time we have a governor who will pledge to focus on South Dakota. A governor we can trust to stay home and get stuff done. I’m Jamie Smith. Let’s Focus on South Dakota.”
Noem addressed the far-reaching nature of her ad campaign by tying it in with her state’s tourism efforts.
“In 2020, when the rest of the country was shutting down, we ran ads across the country inviting people to come to South Dakota, and it changed everything for our state economically,” Noem said, according to the Post. “People came overwhelmingly and visited and the ads put us on people’s radar.”
Maybe that’s all there is to it. Or maybe not.
Time, and the Nov. 8 election, will tell.
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