One Saturday last fall, around the opening of South Dakota’s pheasant hunting season, a crowd of businesspeople and political benefactors who’d come to meet and hunt with the state’s governor, Kristi Noem, trickled back to the Sheraton for dinner and an auction.
The whole weekend had been billed as a business recruiting event for South Dakota, and auction proceeds went to conservation efforts in the state. But the vibe was almost indistinguishable from a typical political fundraiser: an evening, closed to the press, where donors mingled with political staffers, where a governor thanked supporters, and where Tim Laudner, the retired Minnesota Twins catcher and hunting enthusiast, got held up for handshakes at the door — the mix of celebrity and personal access that defines a modern political career.
Projected on a screen in a ballroom was an autographed photograph of Noem and Donald Trump, which sold for $12,500. An Indian Motorcycle Super Chief Limited that Noem rode at the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., brought $27,500. There was a print of Noem on horseback; there was a rifle she’d hunted with. And you could also buy time with a politician who is widely considered a credible potential candidate for president or, more likely, vice president in 2024.
One donor paid $60,000 for a black bear hunt with Noem in Saskatchewan. (The auction program promised this would include not only “one of the best all-inclusive bear hunts Canada has to offer,” but also “spending time” with Noem.) Bids for a “guided trophy bison bull hunt” with Noem at Ted Turner’s Bad River Ranch in South Dakota topped out at $50,000.
Slipping out of the ballroom mid-auction and into the lobby, one of Noem’s guests rolled her eyes. “I left when the painting of Kristi went up,” she said.
The weekend did, in fact, amount to a lot of Noem, from “Governor Noem’s Invitational Pheasant Hunt” to “Governor Noem’s South Dakota Showcase,” to the dinner and auction, where Noem addressed supporters in front of an image of a pheasant taking flight. At “Governor Noem’s Acoustic Experience,” a small concert that immediately followed the auction, Gary LeVox, of Rascal Flatts fame, addressed Noem as “president,” then paused before correcting himself, “governor.”