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Noem and Thune bring campaign bus to Mitchell

Kristi Noem speaks to supporters, with son Booker by her side, Friday night at the James Valley Community Center in Mitchell. In the background is U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., with his wife, Kimberley. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Like a bus carrying rock stars on tour, the campaign bus carrying congressional candidate Kristi Noem and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., was greeted by a crowd of fans Friday night in Mitchell.

"I hope you're excited," Noem told the crowd during a brief speech at the James Valley Community Center. "Because I'm excited."

Noem, who is running against Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and independent B. Thomas Marking, explained why she is running and asked voters to rally their family, friends, neighbors and people they talk to in the next few days to vote for her.

"This is going to be a very close race," she said. "We have got a very tight race, a very exciting race."

Part of the excitement came from traveling with her son, Booker, who appears in some of her TV commercials.

The crowded cheered when Booker, 8, joined his mother, and he later said he is having fun on the campaign trail.

In one of the commercials, the Noem children are astounded to learn their share of the national debt is $42,000. Booker is especially depressed in the ad, since his weekly allowance is $2.

"Everybody chews me out for only giving him $2," Noem said.

But she said the enormous debt and the damage it threatens to the future is "why we're running."

Orange "Kristi" buttons blended with blue "Thune" stickers on the shirts of most of the people at the rally Friday night. The GOP team arrived almost an hour late because they have been greeted with large throngs of supporters at every stop, according to Noem campaign manager Josh Shields.

After she was introduced by Thune, Noem told the crowd she is the superior candidate because she shares conservative views and values with most South Dakotans.

"I am a candidate who believes in small and limited government," she said.

She listed her conservative values to the crowd:

n "I am pro-life," she said.

n "I believe in protecting the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman," Noem said.

n She said she was opposed to government taking over the role of private business.

n She said she lives in South Dakota and will continue to do so if elected.

n And Noem said she would fight to bring down the $13 trillion national debt, which she said means 37 cents of every dollar the government borrows is spent on interest.

Thune asked voters to get to the polls and shared a story from his 2002 campaign, when he lost a razor-thin race to Sen. Tim Johnson.

Several people came up to him after the election and said if they had known it was going to be that close, they would have made sure friends of theirs got to the polls, he said.

In 2004, Thune bounced back and edged Sen. Tom Daschle for the Senate seat he now holds.

"Every vote counts," he said. "I know that well."

Thune said there are good reasons to vote for Noem, whom he described as a "principled leader" who knows what it's like to live on a budget and run a business on one.

"Kristi Noem is an extraordinary candidate," he said. "We have two different candidates, two very different people."

It is "so very important" that South Dakota voters select Noem and send her to Congress, he said.

"We have to change the direction of this country," Thune said. "It starts Tuesday.

Steve Smith, of Mitchell, said he supports Noem because of her conservative views.

He also said he wants her to go to Washington and help remove Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House.

Sonja VanErdewyk, of Mitchell and president of the local Right to Life organization, said Noem's opposition to abortion is one reason she supports her.

"She's conservative fiscally, she lives in South Dakota and understands running a business," VanErdewyk said. "I like her beliefs."

Angie Sterk, of Mitchell, is friends with Noem's family and the women shared a hug and a private word near the end of the rally. Sterk said aside from her personal knowledge of Noem, she likes what she stands for in this campaign.

Noem and Thune were surrounded by people after their speeches. They shook hands, posed for photos and chatted with supporters.

Both appeared a bit weary at the end of a long day on the road but still maintained broad grins.

"You're always tired at the end of the day," Noem said. "You get on the bus, take a cat nap."

Thune was greeted as "Mr. President" by a couple before they posed for a photo with him.

The senator broke out a broad grin and laughed at the reference to his possible campaign for the White House in 2012.

Kasie Hunt, a reporter with Politico, a national political newspaper and multi-media organization, was on the bus in large part because of Thune's high profile. Hunt was also keeping an eye on the Noem-Herseth Sandlin race, she said.

Andi Fouberg, a Thune staffer, took a vacation day to work on the campaign. She snapped photos of people with the senator.

Thune, who is not opposed for a second term, said he was still getting used to a free ride this fall after two extremely close races for the Senate in 2002 and 2004.

"It's very strange. Very much," he admitted. "I'm glad to be able to help."

Thune said "as a competitor," he misses the adrenaline rush of a campaign. But he said by working for Senate candidates across the country and riding the bus with Noem, he is getting his political fix.

He said the Republican candidate has a good chance but it is going to be a razor-thin margin for either candidate.

"It's pretty darn close," he said. "It's going to come down to the wire. It's up to the voters and the turnout on either side."

The campaign bus left Mitchell around 9:30 p.m. and headed to Huron, where it will kick off the third day of the bus tour this morning. After taking Sunday off, it will head to the Black Hills on Monday.

The bus they are traveling on is packed with pillows, has a satellite TV showing news reports, and has places for Noem, her son, Thune and his wife, Kimberley, and others on the tour to crash, chat and relax.

Noem, 38, said she will spend part of Tuesday in Volga, watching her daughters in their district volleyball match. Then she will head to Sioux Falls for a GOP Election Night gathering.

"And then we're going to win," she said to cheers from the more than 100 people who attended the event.