An "unindicted co-conspirator" coming to South Dakota for Noem? Well, that's what Katus said

Last Updated by Kevin Woster on
That's not Trump. It's Noel Hamiel. But Trump is on the way

OK, so Donald Trump is coming to Sioux Falls to call in the cash for Kristi Noem.

I found out in a place where you find out lots of important things: my local newspaper.


There are two things about this news that I find interesting: 1) The Katus question. 2) The Sutton money.

Well, there are more things than that. But let’s start with the two.

First, the question. Former Democratic state Sen. Tom Katus asked Noem last Friday at the Black Hills Press Club and Forum here in Rapid City if she would be welcoming “an un-indicted co-conspirator to South Dakota.”

That’s Trump, of course, at least in the eyes of some folks, including Katus. It was a fun question with just a little bit of an edge and a little more humor about the ongoing Mueller investigation and the indictments and guilty pleas and convictions on people close to Trump. Noem handled it pretty well.

First, she said no president was above the law. But also noted that "I have supported the investigation, but I also believe the investigation should be coming to a close soon."

She also said: "When there are going to be charges filed and when there are convictions then we will talk about what to do at that point in time. But that is not what has happened to far."

True that, as far as charges filed and convictions against the president, or even members of his family.

But Katus coaxed her back to the kinda-snarky question, which she answered more directly:

“Welcome him?” she said. “If the president wants to come to South Dakota, absolutely we’ll welcome him.”

Noem said she welcomed Barack Obama when he made his one-and-only stop in South Dakota as president in early May of 2015.

“I was standing there at the airplane when president Obama came to South Dakota,” Noem said at the Press Club. “And welcomed him to our state and was with him all day he was here.”

It wasn’t quite all day, of course. Obama was actually in the state for about two hours. To be more specific, as my friend and colleague Bob Mercer wrote in his story at the time, “his white-and-blue Boeing 757 came to a stop at Watertown Regional Airport’s main terminal at 4:37 p.m. Five minutes later, he jogged down the steps from the plane to the tarmac. There he shook hands with the VIP greeting party of Gov. Dennis Daugaard, First Lady Linda Daugaard, U.S. Sen. John Thune, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and Watertown Mayor Steve Thorson.”

Obama was in his limousine and on the way to the Watertown airport by about 6:15 p.m. It was his first trip to South Dakota as president, although he made several campaign stops during the 2008 campaign.

Noem said that a state leader in South Dakota should want any president to visit the state, and then be there to provide a welcome. And she said she’d be there to welcome Trump, or any other president.

“And I would do that for any leader of our country who chose to come and visit,” she said, to a scattering of applause that was heaviest at the table where most of her staff sat. “I’m a big believer that what you see with your eyes you carry in your heart. When people come to South Dakota, they see our state, they see our people and they see the potential that we have.

“And this president would do well in coming to South Dakota and seeing the incredible people and opportunities,” Noem said.

According to the AP story in the Journal, the Trump-Noem fundraiser will cost $5,000 per couple, which gets you in to hear his remarks and gives you a photo op with Trump. (Surely there’s food and libations for $5,000, right?)

For $500 a person, you can go in but not get a picture with the president. (But you might snap a selfie of yourself grinning while he speaks somewhere waaaaay in the background.)

It occurs to me that my wife recently wrote a $500 check to Billie Sutton during a fundraiser in Rapid City, where we had really good food and drinks — and a tour through man cave in a garage.  I wonder if Mary would be interested in writing another $500 check for this deal. Maybe I’ll ask her, uh, carefully.

But back to reality, and to the other interesting stuff about the governor's race: the Sutton money. It seems to be coming in at a pretty good clip, and has been for a while. So good that Sutton told a Democratic donor I know that he thought he had a chance to raise more for the general than Noem will..

That’s Sutton, a Democratic first-time candidate for statewide office, saying he might raise more than a four-term Republican U.S. House incumbent. I’d dismiss Sutton’s confidence as self-delusion, except for one thing: A Republican I know who is close to the Noem campaign pretty much told me that there is concern about being outspent.

Now, Noem might end up raising more than Sutton, maybe significantly more. And Trump's stop will certainly help in that. And it's only fair to point out that Sutton didn't have a primary, so he got to save his campaign cash for the general election while she spent most of what she had on hand in the primary against Marty Jackley.

As one Republican insider said, "so it's not an even playing field." Even so, that insider thinks Noem has her fundraising machine rolling, after a bit of of a sputtering period after all the primary, and might still outspend Sutton in the general if the money keeps coming in.

But it’s interesting that Sutton and somebody who strongly supports Noem agree that the race could be competitive in spending.

Why is that? Still some division in the Republican ranks, after that tough Noem-Jackley primary? Or are the GOP faithful just doing what they sometimes do: taking a while to come home, first with cash and then with votes? That is a pretty reliable South Dakota trend.

Still, things are interesting in this race. Just the fact that my wife, who has never donated to campaigns, felt compelled to write a check for $500 tells me there might be real energy in the Sutton fundraising effort, and maybe something for the Noem campaign to worry about.

We’ll start seeing that money soon. Labor Day is typically the starting gate for the real campaign season, where the ads will start hitting us in the face. Who comes up on TV first and hardest and longest might say something about who feels good about their reserves.

Sutton raised $870,000 in 2017, a very respectable showing. Of that, $100,000 was from the old Tim Johnson U.S. Senate campaign fund. There’s still more money in that fund — more than $500,000 last I looked. It’ll be interesting how much, if any, of that remaining Johnson money goes to Sutton.

It’ll also be interesting to see if polling results in the coming few weeks show the race as still close — about a 4-point lead from Noem in a recent Sutton poll that seemed credible — or if Sutton has gained any, or gone the other way.

And I'll be watching to see if Noem comes out swinging in her advertisements, or plays it cool until the final few weeks, holding that hard right hand until she sees what polling shows. And how would attack ads, either way, affect the margin in surveys of likely voters?

If the race stays close, Sutton will have a much easier time raising money — and making it a really competitive race all the way to Election Day.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SDPB, Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, or the State of South Dakota.