U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., right, listens during a debate against Democratic challenger Matt Varilek on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, at KELO-TV studios in Sioux Falls. AP PHOTO/ELIJAH VAN BENSCHOTEN
SIOUX FALLS — Hoping to sway voters fed up with negative campaigning, Democrat Matt Varilek has pulled television ads blasting Republican Rep. Kristi Noem in the final days of their contentious race for South Dakota’s lone U.S. House seat.
“I think people appreciate the fact I’ve decided on my own to run only positive TV ads to the end of the campaign,” Varilek said Monday.
Varilek slammed Noem during their final debate on Friday for running attack ads, including one that depicts him as a monster beheading people. The 37-year-old former congressional staffer pulled his own negative television ads Saturday and urged Noem to do the same, but she continued to run ads accusing Varilek of supporting Democratic President Barack Obama, the president’s health care overhaul and plans to increase taxes.
Noem said her ads weren’t negative but truthful. The 40-year-old farmer and former state lawmaker said Varilek has run a deceitful campaign that distorted her record. She said she’ll continue to run ads that “contrast” her record with Varilek’s views.
“We’re going to make sure we’re consistent with our messaging so people know they have a clear choice in this election,” Noem said.
Linda Burchill, a 60-year-old Pierre resident who works in a coffee shop, said she doubts Varilek’s decision will affect the race.
“It’s too late to change it in the last two days,” Burchill said. “People already know how they’re voting.”
Elizabeth Smith, a political science professor at the University of South Dakota, said voters have tired of the political ads, but she’s not sure Varilek’s last-minute decision to stop running negative ads will win him many votes.
“I’d be surprised if it had a big impact,” Smith said. “I’m not sure that even registers in the final week.”
Smith said she suspects Noem will win because most House incumbents win re-election. But she said Varilek has run an aggressive campaign, and a lack of independent polling makes the race hard to predict.
“It’s anyone’s guess,” she said.
Both Varilek and Noem expressed confidence about their chances of winning. Varilek campaigned Monday in Sioux Falls, Madison, Howard, Mitchell and Freeman in southeastern South Dakota. He ended the day in a rally with Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.
Noem traveled to Rapid City, Spearfish and Sturgis in heavily Republican western South Dakota, joined for part of the day by Republican Sen. John Thune.
Varilek planned to vote Tuesday near his home in Sioux Falls before taking part in more get-out-the-vote activities. Noem planned to vote in Hayti near her home and then campaign in several small towns nearby.
South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant predicted about 70 percent of the state’s registered voters would cast ballots, down slightly from the 73 percent voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election. Gant estimated a quarter of the votes would turn out to have been cast early.
Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Some voters received incorrect information about polling places. South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Ben Nesselhuf said Monday that a political action committee set up by the party sent mailings to tens of thousands of Democrats and independents, and about 5 percent listed incorrect polling places. Nesselhuf said the party was calling those voters to give them correct information.
Along with the state’s lone U.S. representative, voters will choose state lawmakers and two members of the Public Utilities Commission, a three-member panel that regulates electric, natural gas and telephone utilities.
They also will decide several ballot issues, including on Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan for merit pay for teachers and proposed state constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
Still, the House race has drawn the lion’s share of attention this election year.
Varilek hammered Noem for missing many House committee meetings and failing to get a farm bill passed before Congress recessed for the election. He also accused her of supporting Republican plans that he said would wreck Medicare, the health care program for retirees, and give tax breaks to the wealthy.
Noem said she attended most of the meetings she was accused of skipping and missed others because she couldn’t be in two meetings at once. She accused Varilek of supporting tax increases on middle-class families and small businesses and backing the health care overhaul she argued would increase costs instead of reducing them.
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