A former Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii earned enthusiastic applause from backers of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem on Wednesday.
Tulsi Gabbard recently announced that she’d left the Democratic Party over its “extreme positions,” though she did not say whether she would join the Republican Party.
Gabbard appeared alongside Noem twice Wednesday, visiting Rapid City in the morning and Sioux Falls in the evening. Between those rallies, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin stumped for Noem on the same Sioux Falls stage Gabbard would take hours later.
It was Gabbard who drew the loudest cheers, though many of her previous political positions are far removed from Noem’s.
While in office, Gabbard worked to “eradicate the private prison industry,” spoke in favor of the Green New Deal, supported the legalization of cannabis, supported a universal basic income of $1,000 a month, free community college & free 4-year college for families making under $125,000, a common rifle ban and universal background checks (she had an F-rating with the NRA), universal health care, and even pushed to decriminalize sex work.
Gabbard told the crowd in Sioux Falls that her former party is now a threat to democracy.
“I promised to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,” Gabbard said from the stage of the Military Heritage Alliance in Sioux Falls. “The threats we face right now are not coming from a foreign county, they’re coming from leaders in Washington who are abusing their power.”
Gabbard said the left’s “extreme positions” have overridden her previous progressive stances and motivated her to endorse Republicans like Noem. Democrats want gender theory taught in schools, social media platforms “cancel” conservatives, and the White House wants to take away freedoms and undermine families, Gabbard told rallygoers.
“If you focus on what connects us, the values, the principles, the fundamentals of freedom, and our shared love of country, then it’s not strange at all (to switch parties),” Gabbard said.
That makes sense to independent voter Ty Herman of Rosebud. He said issues like “cancel culture” and gun rights are likely to have him voting Republican on Tuesday.
“I’m Native (American), so Democrats are better about addressing those issues, but yeah, free speech and stuff like that has me leaning to the right,” Herman said.
Michael Card, Ph.D., emeritus professor of political science at the University of South Dakota, said on Thursday that he is skeptical about Gabbard’s political shift.
“Now that there are polls and pundits saying the probability is highly likely that Republicans will have the majority in the US House of Representatives, Gabbard’s most recent change in partisan affiliation seems rational for opportunism,” Card said. “Gabbard has radically changed her position on a variety of other fundamental issues over a couple of years.”
Gov. Youngkin, who rose to prominence as a backer of a parental involvement in the curriculum choices across Virginia’s school districts, urged his crowd to turn out for his fellow Republican governor.
“You’ve got to get out the vote. That is how you win,” Youngkin said.
Noem is challenged by Democrat Jamie Smith and Libertarian Tracey Quint in the Nov. 8 gubernatorial election. An early poll showed Noem with only a slight lead, but a more recent poll said she had a 19-point lead.
Smith was also on the campaign trail Wednesday, visiting a small group of supporters at Al’s Oasis in Oacoma before making his way to three reservation communities.
Eathan Martin, 18, came to the cafe to meet and show his support for the Democrat. Martin is a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, and said he appreciates Smith’s attention to indigenous communities.
“Knowing that our people have your support means everything to us,” Martin told Smith.
Also among the 16 visitors to Al’s Oasis was Angi Hanzlik, the proprietor of the wine and kitchen supply store Berry & Basil in Chamberlain. Hanzlik described herself as an undecided voter. She listened to Noem during her recent visit to the area.
“I like to vote based on values and what I see in the candidate, rather than by party,” Hanzlik said.
Both gubernatorial candidates plan to continue public appearances through the weekend in the runup to the general election.