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ANDERSON, S.C. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, introduced herself to the South Carolina voters she may be trying to court in three years.
Noem was the featured speaker at the 10th annual Faith and Freedom BBQ — a must-attend event for politicians seeking the presidency — hosted by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan.
Noem spoke to a crowd of about 2,200 people, who were mostly unmasked, at the Anderson Civic Center. She touted how she did not close down businesses and didn’t mandate masks in South Dakota.
“I didn’t even define what an essential business was in our state because I didn’t believe I had the authority to tell people that their business wasn’t essential,” said Noem, who became governor in 2019.
Noem, South Dakota’s first woman governor, acknowledged she wasn’t known on the national stage last year. Before becoming governor, she served in the South Dakota House of Representatives and the U.S. House of Representatives.
She said she only gained attention because “liberals” criticized her decisions during the pandemic
“They called me reckless, that I was irresponsible,” Noem said. “(Massachusetts Sen.) Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Maddow night after night on the national news, telling people that I was dangerous for the decisions that I was making for my people. And listen, my people are happy, and they’re happy because they’re free.”
In the more conservative Upstate, an area that is a stronghold for former President Donald Trump, Noem presented her conservative credentials. Noem pointed out how she has a full-time staff member whose title is “pro-life advocate.”
She also made an effort to associate herself with the former president.
“Why do I love President Trump?” Noem said. “He is the only politician who did everything he said he was going to do.”
She also was complimentary of S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, who was the first statewide elected official in 2016 to endorse Trump.
“He knows how to pick winners,” Noem said.
Noem was critical of how the Biden administration is handling the situation Afghanistan, while also saying that sending the military into the country was worth it.
“For those who served in Afghanistan, we lived in peace here on our streets because they were over there,” Noem said.
“Those women and children and girls in Afghanistan now know that there’s a different way of life than what they had to experience for generations. They know there’s a choice and a hope and a future, because we were there, and we will continue, continue to pray and be by our allies’ sides and get our Americans out of there regardless of what this White House does or what it feels like doing next.”
Potential presidential candidates attend the event to test their message in the state, which holds the First in the South Primary.
Previous speakers have included former Vice President Mike Pence, Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former Gov. Nikki Haley have also been speakers.
The event at the Anderson Civic Center returned after a one-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a year of economic slowdown, vaccine roll out, and people wearing masks, among the things sold at the event was a “Vaccine Passport.” But inside was a pocket copy of the United States Constitution.
“This is the only passport that matters,” said Duncan, a Republican from Greenville, to the crowd.
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