WASHINGTON (AP) — As his rivals hold town halls and meet-and-greets in states with early voting, Donald Trump heads to South Dakota Friday for a party fundraiser that will double as an opportunity for state governor Kristi Noem to showing himself as a potential vice presidential choice.
Trump will join the South Dakota Republican Party for a Monumental Leaders Rally in Rapid City. Noem will appear alongside the former president and is expected to support him, creating an image of the couple that Noem’s allies hope will resemble a presidential ticket, according to two senior Republicans familiar with her thinking and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she had not yet done so. made her approval public.
Trump’s decision to headline the event underscores his dominance over the Republican race, even as he faces four separate charges and 91 felonies. South Dakota has a late primaries and is not competitive in the general election. But with a huge lead, Trump skips much of the traditional primary campaign. Instead of large-scale rallies, he relies on state party events that provide large, friendly audiences for his campaign at no cost, while his political organization pays millions of dollars in legal fees.
Friday’s event is like an audition for Noem. She planned the event as a way to both show her support and maximize face time with Trump as he monitors potential 2024 running mates and cabinet members, said one of the Republicans who spoke anonymously. A spokesman for the governor declined to comment.
Noem will serve a limited term in 2026 and, after refusing to run for president this year, is looking at her next move to maintain prominence within the Republican party.
“I think Donald Trump has a 50-50 chance of getting elected right now, so why not hitch your wagon to him if you can?” said Michael Card, a longtime observer of South Dakota politics, who suggested that Noem could also become a future president of the National Rifle Association or a conservative commentator.
Voting will not begin for several months, and Trump’s indictments and upcoming criminal trials create an unprecedented situation that many strategists say could affect the race in unexpected ways. That hasn’t stopped those eager to be considered Trump’s running mate from openly competing for the position and trying to curry favor with him and his aides.
Aid workers warn that it is much too early for serious discussions. But Trump has indicated in conversations that he is interested in selecting a woman this time. Among the other names put forward: New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, and Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn. Florida Representative Byron Donalds and Senator Tim Scott have also been named.
Trump will be in Iowa on Saturday, the first state on the GOP nomination calendar, to attend the college football game between Iowa and Iowa State.
“What we’re focusing on is closing this primary and pivoting toward the general election,” campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said.
Long considered a potential candidate for the White House, Noem told The New York Times in November that she didn’t believe Trump offered “the best chance” for the party in 2024. She has since said she doesn’t feel like it in joined the crowded field running for the nomination, given Trump’s dominant position.
“I’ll tell you, of course I would consider it,” she told Fox News host Sean Hannity when recently asked if she would run on a potential Trump ticket if asked. “If President Trump comes back to the White House, I would do everything I can to help him be successful.”
It will be Trump’s first visit to South Dakota since the summer of 2020, when he headlined a July 4 fireworks celebration at Mount Rushmore on the eve of Independence Day. The then president was looking for a location to turn the page after a summer of pandemic lockdowns and racial justice protests. Notably, Noem’s event at Mount Rushmore was devoid of pandemic restrictions.
She also gifted him a miniature replica of Mount Rushmore with his likeness carved alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.
“I’m not exactly sure,” Trump said Thursday when asked if Noem would support him. ‘But I am going. I like her very much. I love her. Kristi did a great job.” He has often praised her handling of the pandemic, saying again on Thursday that she had done a “fantastic job”.
Noem, a former member of Congress, won a surprisingly narrow victory over a Democratic challenger in 2018 to become South Dakota’s first female governor. She achieved national fame with a mostly hands-off approach to the pandemic and closely aligned with Trump’s push to return to normal life.
She handily won re-election last year, even though she underperformed other Republicans during the election.
Despite not running for president, Noem has continued to position herself nationally. She’s been an outspoken champion for the National Rifle Association, even boasting at a spring convention for the gun rights group that her 1-year-old granddaughter “already” had firearms. She has also defended South Dakota’s abortion ban and will appear later this month at a Michigan fundraiser in support of Republican Senate nominee Mike Rogers.
During the GOP’s first presidential debate, she appeared in an ad encouraging businesses and families to move to what she calls “the freest state in America.”
Friday’s event is expected to attract protesters targeting both Trump and Noem, said Annie Bachand, CEO of South Dakota-based group Liberty & Justice for All.
“The reason we show up is to show other people that we are not alone,” Bachand said. “Kristi Noem has spent more time campaigning for I don’t know what than in South Dakota. She’s more interested in her own self-interest than caring for the people of South Dakota.”
South Dakota GOP Chairman John Wiik said he expects about 7,000 people to attend the sold-out fundraiser. The event was initially planned as a Lincoln Day-style fundraising dinner usually held by local Republican groups, Wiik said, but it later degenerated into a rally with proceeds going to the state party.
“I got a lot of questions at the beginning,” Wiik said of Trump’s decision to travel to his state just as the primary season begins its traditional post-Labor Day overdrive.
“But the closer you look at it, Trump is a media event wherever he ends up,” Wiik said. “He could have a rally on the moon and he’d spread his word and reach just as many people, so I’m just glad he chose South Dakota.”
Colvin reported from New York.