Matt Varilek's has had little time to catch his breath since his election win in the state's primary election last month.
Varilek, the Democratic nominee in the for the U.S. House of Representative race that will be decided in November, remains on the go in campaign mode.
"I'm working hard to continue introducing myself to voters across the state. It was great to win our primary, and the course in the campaigning for that, we traveled extensively, and tried to meet as many people face-to-face as we could," he said during a recent stop in Vermillion. "I think here in South Dakota, we expect to know our candidates and our leaders on a face-to-face basis."
While introducing himself to as many South Dakota voters as possible, Varilek is offering himself as a viable alternative to his opponent, incumbent Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican.
"As I travel, I hear so much frustration with the lack of leadership from her, the 'my way or the highway' attitude, the priorities that are reflected in her voting record – defending millionaires and big oil companies at the expense of middle class folks, and now, most recently the questions about her attendance and participation at committee meetings," he said.
Varilek said he shares voters' frustrations.
"I think we've got to do better. I've said from the beginning that I want to be a voice for middle class people. I grew up in a lower income situation, and had to work hard just to climb the ladder to make it to the middle class," he said. "The issues that regular folks face are ones that are familiar to me, too, and I think we deserve a hard-working member of Congress who works just as hard as folks do here in South Dakota."
Varilek was born in Yankton, and spent his early childhood in Tabor.
"I attended kindergarten through high school in Yankton. My parents were divorced when I was pretty young, and I grew up mainly in my mom's household. We didn't have too much money … and I was someone who received, for example, reduced school lunches while I was in school, and that made me sensitive to what it's like when you're in that situation, he said.
Varilek was able to receive his higher education because of the availability of Stafford loans and Pell grants. Private scholarships made it possible for him to attend graduate school.
"I've worked hard my whole life to get where I am now, but also got a few helping hands along the way. When we look at tackling our budget situation, which we must do, I think we need to get serious about the deficit but not in a way that puts all the burden on middle class people and those trying to get into the middle class," he said. "I think we need to give every kid the same opportunities that I've had."
Varilek attended Carleton College in Minnesota, and attended graduate school at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, thanks to a Rotary scholarship. He earned a second master's degree at Cambridge, England. His wife is a USD grad.
Varilek joined Sen. Tom Daschle's staff in 2004, and began working for Sen. Tim Johnson in early 2005.
"I was with him (Sen. Johnson) until I got into the race in December 2011," he said. "While working for the senator, I mainly focused on job creation and small business issues – trying to help find resources for infrastructure in communities, like sewer systems and water systems. I worked a little bit on the funding for the medical school here at USD, daycare centers, and business incubators.
"I worked on a lot of small business issues trying to promote job creation wherever we could," Varilek said. "Always, it meant working in partnership with local leaders, with county commissioners, sometimes with the governor's office and sometimes with other members of the Congressional delegation."
Those experiences taught him the value of cooperation for the sake of progress.
"That's one of the big contrasts with Kristi, once again," Varilek said. "As someone who rode that Tea Party wave into office, we don't see any evidence of her being willing to compromise and work together when it's in the interest of the country or in the interest of the state.
"I think it all starts with the attitude that you bring to the office, and I'm someone who has said from day one that we do need more of that willingness to work together to try to find solutions to the issues that we all care about, whether you're a Republican, Democrat or independent," he said. "From Kristi, the contrast is that we very often see very little evidence of a willingness to work together and Kristi is very often at the center of threats to shut down the government because of a lack of a willingness to compromise."
Varilek noted that Noem seems willing to follow rather than the wishes of her constitutents.
"Grover Norquist is not a South Dakotan, and his pledge says that she would never, under any circumstances, raises taxes on anyone including Donald Trump or Warren Buffet. Even Mike Rounds, former Republican governor of South Dakota, has said he would not sign that kind of pledge if he ever runs again, because he thinks that rigidity is one reason we can't get anything done in Washington," he said.
Varilek said he has witnessed Sen. Johnson working with members of Congress from "both sides of the aisle. I've seen the ability he has to work well with others, and I intend to be the same kind of representative when it comes to my approach."
Varilek said the growing national budget deficit has been an issue he has talked about since day one of his U.S. House campaign.
"The day I announced my candidacy, I talked about it," he said, "and the fact that I think we need to be serious about fiscal responsibility, which means shrinking the deficit. I don't think that we can afford to renew the Bush tax cuts for those at the top of the economic spectrum. As someone who wants to stand up for the middle class, I do think we should keep those tax cuts in place for those in the middle and lower end of the economic spectrum."
It is another issue, Varilek noted, where his views differ from those of Noem.
"Kristi thinks we should keep them all (tax cuts), and even worse than that, she thinks we should give huge new tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires."