Former President Trump is set to headline a rally in South Dakota on Friday alongside the state’s Gov. Kristi Noem (R), fueling speculation he could be courting her to be his running mate.
Noem has been a vocal ally of the former president for years and even took herself out of the running for the GOP nomination, citing Trump’s dominance in the party.
But Noem said last month she would consider being Trump’s running mate if he gets the nomination, making his upcoming visit to the reliably red state more interesting.
“The obvious question people had is what is Donald Trump doing coming to South Dakota?” said Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University in South Dakota.
“One would have to think that a plausible explanation as to why he would come to South Dakota for such a rally is because he thinks well of Kristi Noem and he’s probably considering her for a vice presidential slot,” he said.
Trump and Noem will appear at the Monumental Leaders Rally in Rapid City, S.D., on Friday evening. Multiple outlets reported Noem will endorse the former president at the rally.
Republicans note Noem’s status as a rising star within the GOP and her growing national profile has helped elevate her to the position of at least being floated as a possible running mate for Trump. Noem has notably run several ads on Fox News, including during the first GOP primary debate, in which she comedically portrays herself as a plumber and dentist in a bid to promote South Dakota.
“There’s no question that she’s in the conversation,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “Noem can drive a message. She has a great record as a chief executive and frankly, for the GOP in many ways, she’s straight out of central casting.”
Noem has set herself apart from other rising stars in the GOP by showing loyalty to the former president.
“Loyalty to the former president is of critical importance,” said Brian Seitchik, a Republican strategist and Trump campaign alum.
Last month, Noem notably reaffirmed her decision not to run for the GOP presidential nomination despite speculation she would jump into the field, nothing Trump’s dominance within the party.
“The fact is, none of them can win as long as Trump’s in the race. And that’s just the facts. So why run if you can’t win?” Noem said in an interview with “Fox & Friends.”
The governor went on to cite another quality the former president has said he likes: winning.
“I’ve probably run 10 statewide races. I’ve won them all. I’ve never lost. If I get into a race, I’m gonna win. So that’s just how we do it,” Noem said. “And President Trump did some great things for our state and for our country. As governor — and everybody should be grateful for this — he let me do my job. When he was president, he let me do my job, and I appreciate that.”
One potential hurdle a Trump-Noem ticket could face is the fact she comes from an already reliably red state, which may not help with winning in the all-important swing states. South Dakota’s relatively small population only boasts three Electoral College votes, and the state is in the pocket of the GOP. Former President Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to win the state in 1964. In terms of the Republican presidential primary, the state’s late primary date of June 4 likely precludes the state from having a major say in who the GOP nominee will be.
At the same time, many observers note South Dakota was home to one of the more major moments of his second presidential campaign in 2020. On the eve of the July 4 holiday, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Trump held a rally at the foot of Mount Rushmore alongside Noem.
“I think that went very well,” Schaff said. “Considering it was the middle of COVID and it was Donald Trump, I think it was about as normal of a political event as you could get.”
The governor later said she gifted Trump a statue of the landmark with Trump’s face beside former Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.
Still, the eventual Republican nominee’s running mate will have to play a role in bringing purple battleground states back into the party’s fold.
“How do they help him win some combination of Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania?” Seitchik said, referring to if Trump is the nominee. “And I think to do that, the president needs to bring back those college-educated, suburban women who were with the campaign in 2016 and left in 2020.”
“Critically, the question they have to answer is does she bring back three of those five states?”
Seitchik cited the nature of the national media in arguing that a running mate doesn’t necessarily have to be from a particular swing state to benefit a ticket.
“It’s finding someone who appeals to the swing voters in that state,” he said. “And while Gov. Noem is the governor of a relatively smaller state, she has developed a national profile, specifically among Republicans.”
And past successful presidential tickets have included running mates from non-swing states. Biden was a longtime senator from Delaware when he ran with former President Obama in 2008 and 2012, while former Vice President Mike Pence was governor of Indiana when he was picked by Trump in 2016. And most recently, Vice President Harris was a senator from California when she joined Biden on his ticket in 2020.
Like Harris, Noem would bring a fresh perspective to the ticket as a woman. However, unlike Harris, Noem comes from a political party that has struggled to garner a majority of female voters. On top of that, Republicans have lost their grip on suburban female voters, a critical swing voter group, over the past three election cycles.
“The Democrats’ plan is to drive down Trump’s likeability even further through indictments and to play up abortion and any sort of equity as much as they can,” O’Connell said “And in this case, having Kristi Noem there helps diffuse their attempts to play up the abortion issue or to say ‘You’re a man, you don’t speak for women.’”
But having a woman on the ticket doesn’t necessarily translate to winning over women voters.
“We know from history, certainly looking at someone like [former Alaska Gov.] Sarah Palin [R] when she ran as the VP candidate, there’s no indication that that choice helped,” said Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. “Women don’t vote for women just because there’s a woman on the ticket. Party is the cue and where that woman stands on issues will also be far more important to women voters.”
Seitchik echoed this point, invoking the need for the ticket to win a combination of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia.
“A minority for the sake of a minority is not going to help the president win one of those key swing states,” Seitchik said. “It’s got to be somebody that appeals to those voters that have left us and that we’ve got to bring back or at least someone who speaks to the president’s successes directly to that group.”