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South Dakota congressional candidate accused of misstating NRA endorsement

The Stephanie Herseth Sandlin campaign is accusing the Kristi Noem campaign of "pretending" to receive an endorsement from the National Rifle Association.

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
Incumbent Democrat House candidate Stephanie Herseth Sandlin talks with supporters Aug. 17, 2010 in Mitchell, S.D., after a debate at Dakotafest. (AP Photo/Mitchell Daily Republic, Chris Huber,file)

The Stephanie Herseth Sandlin campaign is accusing the Kristi Noem campaign of "pretending" to receive an endorsement from the National Rifle Association.

Noem sent a campaign mailer bearing pictures of herself in camouflage and blaze-orange hunting gear, along with an "A rating" NRA logo near the pictures.

Noem does in fact have an "A" rating from the NRA, but so does Herseth Sandlin. The Noem mailer does not mention that. It also leaves out another fact: It's Herseth Sandlin, not Noem, who has the endorsement of the NRA.

The campaign of Herseth Sandlin, who is the Democrat incumbent in the race for the state's lone U.S. House seat, sent out a press release Thursday in response to the Noem mailer.

"Kristi Noem is sending dishonest and outrageously false mailings to South Dakota voters, pretending that she received the NRA endorsement and trying to dupe South Dakotans into thinking Noem received a better rating from the NRA than Stephanie Herseth Sandlin," said the release.


The mailer also bears a twocolumn chart purporting to compare the "gun rights" records of each candidate. On Herseth Sandlin's column, there are "D" and "F" rating logos attributed to Gun Owners of America and the NRA, respectively.

Readers of the mailer have to look closely to see that the NRA "F" rating was earned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not Herseth Sandlin. The Noem mailer attempts to connect the two by saying Herseth Sandlin "voted three times for F-rated Nancy Pelosi as speaker."

Readers also have to look closely to see that the Gun Owners of America "D" rating is only for certain years. As of Thursday, the Gun Owners of America website displayed a "B-" rating for Herseth Sandlin, but that's not mentioned on the mailer.

Betsy Hart, Herseth Sandlin's deputy campaign manager, said Noem is "willfully misleading South Dakota voters, and that's just wrong."

"The NRA endorsed Stephanie in this race because of her proven commitment to protecting our Second Amendment rights," Hart said.

The Daily Republic asked the Republican Noem campaign for a response. The campaign manager, Joshua Shields, sent this by e-mail:

"Nancy Pelosi is the most anti-gun speaker of the House in U.S. history and Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin has consistently supported Pelosi to set the agenda, including voting to make her speaker three times.

"The NRA has repeatedly given Pelosi an 'F' rating on defending the Second Amendment. Only one candidate has led the charge in introducing legislation to help protect the Second Amendment, and that candidate is Kristi Noem."


When asked by The Daily Republic why the NRA endorsed Herseth Sandlin instead of Noem, Shields responded with this:

"The NRA awarded Kristi Noem an 'A' rating. The NRA will have to explain to you why they endorsed Herseth Sandlin."

The NRA's explanation of its Herseth Sandlin endorsement is available on its Political Victory Fund website, www.nrapvf.org . Clicking the "Why we endorse this candidate" link under Herseth Sandlin's name brings up a list of legislative activity by Herseth Sandlin that the NRA considers favorable to gun owners.

A letter from the NRA to Herseth Sandlin, which was distributed by the Herseth Sandlin campaign, explains the endorsement in part by mentioning Herseth Sandlin's "commitment to our Second Amendment rights." The letter closes with a "good luck" wish for Herseth Sandlin in the Nov. 2 election and says the NRA "look(s) forward to our continued relationship."

Chris W. Cox, chairman of the NRA Political Victory Fund, was quoted by the Herseth Sandlin campaign in a Sept. 28 news release about the NRA's endorsement.

"The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund supports Stephanie Herseth Sandlin because she has defended the Second Amendment freedoms of lawabiding gun owners, hunters and sportsmen in South Dakota and across America," Cox was quoted as saying. "On Nov. 2, I urge all South Dakota NRA members and gun owners to vote Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for Congress."

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