SD Dems nominate Varilek as US House challengerSIOUX FALLS (AP) — Matt Varilek, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, won the Democratic nomination for South Dakota's lone U.S. House seat on Tuesday, sending him onto what was expected to be an uphill fall battle against Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem.
By: CHET BROKAW, The Associated Press
SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Matt Varilek, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, won the Democratic nomination for South Dakota's lone U.S. House seat on Tuesday, sending him onto what was expected to be an uphill fall battle against Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem.
Varilek defeated Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth in a Democratic primary in which the candidates rarely mentioned each other. Instead, they targeted Noem for her votes on budget and tax issues and allegations that she missed a lot of House Agriculture Committee meetings.
However, Noem could be a formidable opponent in November because Republicans far outnumber Democrats in South Dakota and she has raised at least five times more than the two Democratic hopefuls combined.
The Democratic candidates, both of whom are residents of the state's largest city of Sioux Falls, took different approaches in their campaigns.
Varilek, 37, touted working his way through several colleges before spending nearly seven years working for Johnson, the last five in South Dakota as the senator's economic development director. He said that experience allowed him to "get to know the communities, and also learn from Sen. Johnson how to do the job effectively."
Barth, 60, stressed that he is an outsider who has had little to do with Congress in his three decades as a telephone company technician and six years as a county commissioner.
"I think Congress is broken," he said.
Barth gained attention in the final weeks of the campaign with an Internet video nearly five minutes long that showed him walking down a wooded path, walking past props as he talked bluntly about Congress' failure to cut spending and solve other problems. When he mentioned Noem, he walked past a nicely dressed mannican. When he talked about his military service, he stopped and shot a rifle.
Bob Burns, a retired political science professor at South Dakota State University, said Democrats will have a tough time defeating Noem because Republicans have a big edge in registered voters and have dominated statewide races in recent years.
"It is an uphill battle for a Democrat to win a statewide race in South Dakota today. It is going to take a very special campaign to accomplish that," Burns said.
Noem narrowly defeated Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin two years ago amid voter frustration with Congress that swept many Republicans into office nationwide. Herseth Sandlin was seeking a fourth full term in the House, but Noem won with a pledge to cut federal spending.
Burns said the Democratic challenger to Noem will likely focus on tax and spending policies.
In the Democratic congressional primary, Varilek seemed to have an advantage throughout the campaign, raising far more money than Barth and gaining endorsements from Johnson and former South Dakota Sens. Tom Daschle and George McGovern. Varilek had raised more than $300,000 in campaign contributions by May 16, while Barth had raised just $45,000, with about half that coming from a loan he made to his own campaign.
Noem had raised nearly $1.8 million by the May 16 reporting deadline.