South Dakota Public Broadcasting hosted a debate Oct. 18 on the University of South campus between U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and her Democratic opponent Matt Varilek.
The debate, which took place in the SDPB studio, featured questions from ordinary South Dakotans and covered topics like agriculture, climate change, healthcare, Social Security, taxes, weapons control and the economy.
Noem and Varilek agreed on the necessity of implementing livestock disaster programs, cutting healthcare costs, keeping Social Security intact and strengthening the middle class; however, the candidates clashed on how to accomplish these goals.
Varilek criticized Noem for her attendance record in Congress, saying the absence of agricultural safety nets in South Dakota is due to “a choice of the House leadership” and that it “reflects failure” on Noem’s part.
Noem rebuked Varilek’s claim, stating she has a 99 percent voting record and reports to the contrary are “simply just a smear campaign that he has started and created.”
“Just because he keeps saying it, doesn’t make it true,” she added.
After the debate, Noem said the most important topic of the night was spending.
“We need to focus on the out-of-control spending,” Noem said. “We need to start prioritizing.”
Varilek said his goal for the debate was to talk about issues most important to the middle class.
“I wanted to use this opportunity to talk about Medicare,” Varilek said.
It was a closed-door debate, so students gathered in the Muenster University Center Pit Lounge to watch the live broadcast.
“I was really happy with the turnout,” sophomore Rachelle Norberg said. “Democrats and Republicans were all able to sit in the same place and be civil. It was a chance to learn something — to hear some different opinions.”
Senior Joyce Trudeau, president of the USD College Democrats, agreed.
“I’m really glad that we had such a great turnout,” Trudeau said. “Matt did a great job. He really showed he’s willing to stand up for us.”
Senior Rebecca Reiter, who worked for Noem over the summer, said she was satisfied with Noem’s performance.
“She’s done a great job responding to Varilek,” Reiter said. “He attacks issues in Congress, but Kristi is one vote in 435. She can’t be held personally responsible.”
Noem said she was impressed with the level of political enthusiasm on campus.
“I’m thrilled to see all the students come out,” Noem said. “It doesn’t matter who they’re voting for — it’s just great to see such excitement.”
Students can cast their votes for either candidate on or before Election Day, which is set for Nov. 6.