U.S. House campaign veers into driving-record debate
It was recently revealed by a Sioux Falls media outlet that Kristi Noem, the Republican challenger for South Dakota’s lone U.S. House seat, has an extensive record of traffic citations. Her list of tickets dating to 1989 is more than 20 entries long, and it includes highlights (or low lights, depending on one’s perspective) such as being caught driving 94 mph earlier this year and having two bench warrants issued for her arrest after she initially failed to pay some fines.
After the initial report, the story exploded across the mainstream media and the blogosphere. The Democratic Party even started a website, www.kristiabovethelaw.com, to push the story along further. Each side is digging up more and more dirt on the other, and one of the latest revelations is a drunken driving arrest of the Democratic incumbent’s chief of staff that occurred this summer.
Debate is now turning to whether Noem’s driving record will diminish her chances of upsetting Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, whose driving record includes only a couple of citations.
The controversy is playing out against the backdrop of South Dakotans’ memories of 2003, when then-congressman and former governor Bill Janklow, a political legend in the state, was driving a vehicle over the speed limit that struck and killed a motorcyclist. Janklow had made jokes for years about his fast driving, but it came back to haunt him not only in the form of the motorcyclist’s death, but also in the form of a conviction for second-degree manslaughter, a sentence of 100 days in jail and his resignation from the U.S. House under a cloud of controversy. The previously larger-than-life political figure has kept a low profile ever since.
It was Janklow’s resignation that opened the door for Herseth Sandlin, who won the special election to fill Janklow’s seat. Her two most recent re-election campaigns have been pretty easy, but the only poll results revealed so far in this race — from Rasmussen Reports, which Herseth Sandlin says is Republican-slanted — show Noem leading.
The final poll — the election — is scheduled for Nov. 2.