SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem won South Dakota's Republican primary for governor on Tuesday, defeating Attorney General Marty Jackley to emerge as the favorite to become the state's first female governor.
GOP primary voters made Noem the only woman South Dakota Republicans have nominated for the state's top job. She advanced to face well-funded Democrat Billie Sutton, a state senator and former professional rodeo cowboy, in the November general election.
Noem credited her primary victory in part to traveling around the state and talking about policies that cast a bold new vision for South Dakota.
"I expect the general election will be competitive as well, but we're going to work hard," Noem said. "We will start focusing on that tomorrow."
The governor contest — the highest-profile match up on the ballot — started mostly polite, but soured at the end as the candidates sought to break out in the primary.
Ads from Noem in the final days criticized Jackley for his handling of a case involving a former state agent who received a $1.5 million state settlement after she won a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. They also accused Jackley of being soft in his prosecution of a financial misconduct case involving the EB-5 investment-for-visa program.
Similar on policy, the candidates tried to contrast their experience. Noem touted her role negotiating the GOP's recent federal tax cuts with President Donald Trump. She cast Jackley as a "government lawyer" who would maintain the status quo.
Jackley unsuccessfully made himself the homegrown candidate, focusing on his tenure as the state's former U.S. attorney and now attorney general.
Patricia McKeever's vote went to Noem. McKeever, a 74-year-old retiree in Sioux Falls who works at a church, appreciated Noem's support for Trump but also felt Noem — a rancher, farmer and small business owner — had proven herself as a businesswoman.
"And the last point on the list is that she's a woman: I want to see a first female governor," McKeever said.
Matt Schilling, 52, of Sioux Falls, backed Jackley, saying he felt he was committed to making sure South Dakota is run as efficiently as it can be.
"He's conservative. He's proven that he puts the state first, and I think that that's important for the state of South Dakota," said Schilling, a sales director for a manufacturing company.
Noem will have an advantage going into the general election in heavily conservative South Dakota, but Democrats have put forward a strong and well-funded challenger. Sutton has banked cash while Noem and Jackley fought for the GOP nomination.