Will Noem’s Driving Record Matter?

JEREMY FUGLEBERG: Kristi Noem has a lead foot and doesn’t show up in court. Those are the facts, unearthed by a South Dakota television station examining the traffic records of this year’s crop of candidates for public office.

The Republican candidate for South Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House has racked up 20 speeding tickets, six failures to appear in court and two arrest warrants, as well as three stop sign violations and no driver’s license.

Who cares, right? Everyone speeds, it’s no big deal.

Yet it’s a particularly big deal in South Dakota, where Noem is fighting Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for a seat vacated by “Wild Bill” Janklow, a Republican and South Dakotan political titan notorious for fast and furious driving.  Janklow was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in 2003 after he collided with a motorcycle rider on a lonely country road intersection. Herseth Sandlin won Janklow’s empty seat a year later and has decisively won every election since. Herseth Sandlin is a Democrat centrist by an measure, often voting against the part line to more accurate reflect her state’s conservative views.

Yet her centrist stance might not be enough to keep her seat safe in an election year where many centrist Democrats are feeling the heat from bombastic, far-Right candidates. Kristi Noem is winning in the latest poll and both CQ Politics and the Cook Political Report have moved the state into the toss-up category. Herseth Sandlin is fighting for her political life, and Noem’s tickets and other offense could give the Democrat a useful weapon as election day draws close.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Yes, I know Wild Bill Janklow lost the very House seat now in question over driving, and Kristi Noem, running for that seat, has 20 speeding tickets on her record since 1989.

It’s not going to matter one bit. We aren’t living in times prosperous enough for it to matter.

Leaving aside the obvious- in Noem’s haste to get from Point A to Point B, she hasn’t killed Pedestrian C along the way- a far better example of when a driving record matters or doesn’t came just last year, in the New Jersey gubernatorial race between Chris Christie and Jon Corzine.

Corzine, the incumbent, had alienated voters disenchanted with his policies and his inability to sell them properly. Christie managed to win on the strength of voter antipathy with Corzine, and the ability to largely stay out of his own way on the campaign trail.

The number of voters who made the choice based on driving records is unclear from the exit polls. Corzine had the well-publicized accident while not wearing a seatbelt (but also, he wasn’t driving), while Christie had multiple driving issues, including clipping a man on a motorcycle while driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

Of the important issues cited, “Corruption” is the only one that comes close. Economy/Jobs, Property Taxes and Health Care are the others cited- and they collectively represent 75 percent of the voters.

Still, among the Corruption voters, Christie won, 68-25%.

The motivational factors in the 2010 race are awfully similar. We are still in the midst of awful economic conditions. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin is in a tough state for Democrats, and in a tough year for Democrats. On the other hand, she’s won in difficult circumstances before, and shouldn’t be counted out.

My guess? Either way, Noem’s one ticket a year won’t make the difference.

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