SIOUX FALLS — Republican Kristi Noem joined the GOP's national surge Tuesday to defeat Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and claim South Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House.
With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Noem had more than 48 percent of the votes to Herseth Sandlin's 46 percent. Independent B. Thomas Marking had 6 percent.
Herseth Sandlin won Minnehaha County and other areas of eastern South Dakota, but Noem won by large margins in Pennington County and other western areas.
The campaign, a key race in the Republican effort to gain control of the House, focused on the nation's economic woes and the growing federal debt.
The candidates also exchanged personal attacks. The Democratic congresswoman hammered at Noem's extensive record of traffic offenses, while Noem contended Herseth Sandlin has a conflict of interest because her husband is a lobbyist in Washington.
Herseth Sandlin won re-election easily against token opposition in 2006 and 2008, but Republicans poured a lot of money into television ads this year in an attempt to win the seat.
Herseth Sandlin, 39, has worked hard to build a reputation as a moderate. She argued she has fought against excessive spending by voting against the health care law and bailouts for the financial and automobile industries.
Noem, 38, criticized Herseth Sandlin for being part of a Democratic Congress that has let spending get out of control while failing to revive the economy.
Herseth Sandlin worked as a law clerk for two federal judges after getting a law degree at Georgetown University. She lost her first run for Congress in 2002, but won a special election in June 2004. She was re-elected in November 2004, 2006 and 2008.
Noem returned to her family farm near Castlewood in 1994 after the death of her father, and she also helped run a hunting lodge and a restaurant. She was elected to the South Dakota House in 2006 and has been assistant leader of the Republican majority in that chamber for the past two years.