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Rarity in South Dakota: Close race for governor

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- Voters in South Dakota's top race are choosing Tuesday between making Republican Kristi Noem the state's first female governor or embracing Billie Sutton's moderate message to make him the first Democrat in the office in 40 years.

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SIOUX FALLS (AP) - Voters in South Dakota's top race are choosing Tuesday between making Republican Kristi Noem the state's first female governor or embracing Billie Sutton's moderate message to make him the first Democrat in the office in 40 years.

Noem, a four-term congresswoman, was the immediate favorite after surviving a GOP summer primary. But Sutton downplayed his party and rode his compelling backstory - a former rodeo cowboy who turned to politics after he was paralyzed in a 2007 accident - to a  tight race  with Noem.

The winner was replacing term-limited Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Sutton - a self-described "pro-life and pro-Second Amendment" moderate - cast himself as an anti-corruption crusader who would buck the status quo in the wake of financial misconduct scandals that grabbed South Dakota headlines.

"From what I've been hearing as I've traveled the state, South Dakotans are ready to move past partisan divisions, ready to part with politics as usual and ready to come together around shared values like honesty, integrity and hard work," Sutton said late in the campaign at an event to unveil endorsements from Republicans and independents.

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Sutton also got a boost with endorsements from the Rapid City Journal and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. A key focus of his campaign was government integrity, and he called for government documents such as emails, correspondence and calendars to be public records under South Dakota law.

Noem  fought back  by reminding voters that Sutton is a Democrat and trying to tie him to 2016 Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. She also  asserted  - over Sutton's denials - that he backs a state income tax for South Dakota, one of seven states without it.

"If Billie believed everything that he said in this campaign, he'd be a Republican, but he's not. He's a Democrat," Noem said during a late October debate.

She's promised to protect state residents from tax increases and more government regulations, improve state transparency and fight federal government intrusion.

Noem, who had roots in ranching and farming before turning to politics, brought major strengths to the race: a nearly 100,000-voter GOP advantage, experience running statewide campaigns and support from the state's dominant political party and its top officials. She also significantly outraised and outspent Sutton.

Related Topics: KRISTI NOEM
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