With the general election less than a week away, the Democratic candidate for South Dakota’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives stopped in town to help motivate his support base.
Matt Varilek, who is challenging first-term Republican Rep. Kristi Noem, appeared at the Pizza Ranch in Fort Pierre on Thursday to meet with voters and local Democratic supporters.
This was the second engagement of Varilek’s five-day, 13-stop tour to rally voters. He held a similar forum in Rapid City’s Dahl Art Center on Wednesday night. After Fort Pierre, the tour moved on to Lower Brule and Chamberlain and will pick up again in Aberdeen on Saturday.
Varilek said the reason for the tour is to energize volunteers and get in front of voters, saying face-to-face is still the best way to connect with someone, regardless of political party affiliation.
The candidate spoke briefly about the beginning of his campaign, having no name recognition and traveling across the state with his wife in their 1995 Buick LeSabre. He also noted Noem had raised $1 million before he even started to campaign.
“When they saw I was the challenger, they probably started planning their victory party,” he said.
Varilek touted himself as someone to look out for middle-class interests and would change perceptions that Washington is “rigged” in favor of the rich.
“I’m even willing to use the dreaded ‘c’ word: compromise,” he said.
He also referred to Noem’s low attendance record in congressional committee and sub-committee meetings, an issue his campaign has raised for months. Attendance wasn’t originally a running point, but unexpectedly gained prominence, he said.
“If I had said (at the beginning of the campaign) ‘I would do the basics of the job and speak about issues important to South Dakota’ they would have said, ‘Of course you will, dummy,” Varilek said.
In the past, Congresswoman Noem has responded by saying she was either in other meetings more pertinent to the state or with members of her constituency when absent. She also pointed to her attendance for 99 percent of votes in committees and 98 percent on the House floor.
Noem has four times the money that Varilek had for the last days of the campaign, according to Oct. 25 filings with the Federal Election Commission. The editorial board of the Daily Republic in Mitchell endorsed Noem on Thursday, in additional to favorable editorials in the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls.
Varilek, however, says the race is close, and the best evidence is that his opponent is naming him in attack ads, something an incumbent sure of victory wouldn’t do.
“We’re in a dog fight here,” he said.