Kristi Noem's Transformation Is A Staggering Sight To See

The name Kristi Noem has been floating around the political sphere for some time, but she has been mentioned in the media more than ever as the U.S. heads into the 2024 presidential race. Noem made history when she became the first-ever female governor of South Dakota in 2018. Still, her conservative values, support of several controversial bills and laws, and how she handled the COVID-19 pandemic in her home state have become a hot topic of conversation.

Noem has described herself as "a family-first governor" and is incredibly proud of her South Dakotan roots. Her X, formerly known as Twitter, profile reads, "I am a wife, mother, grandma, farmer, rancher, small business owner, and South Dakotan who serves as South Dakota's Governor." She even proudly wears cowboy boots during congressional meetings.

However, Noem has had quite the transformation, which hasn't only been in her growing political career. From her humble beginnings as a farmer's daughter to becoming former president Donald Trump's possible running mate for vice president in the 2024 election, here is all you need to know about the conservative hopeful.

Kristi Noem was raised on a farm

Born in 1971, Governor Kristi Noem was brought up by her parents, Ron and Corrine Arnold, on a farm and ranch in South Dakota's Hamlin County. Raised by a rancher father, Noem regularly rode horses and chased cattle. A sister to three other siblings, she also hunted with her family, which she has continued, having shared the tradition with her children.

During a National Rifle Association meeting in April 2023, the governor spoke of her often firm and no-nonsense father. At 10 years old, Ron left his daughter alone to hunt in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains. "As strange noises came and darkness fell, I had to rely on my instincts and my horse to find my way back to our tent," she shared. Despite fears of being alone in the woods, she understood what her father was trying to do as she got older, stating, "Those hunting trips gave me a lot of confidence." Noem later learned that her father was always behind her, even making bear noises to scare her.

In 2022, Noem published her memoir, "Not My First Rodeo: Lessons from the Heartland." In it, the governor recounted her early years of ranching and the tough life lessons her father taught her. "Growing up with a father like mine was challenging, exciting, exasperating, and inspiring," she wrote (via Fox News). 

She was South Dakota's Snow Queen

In 1990, Kristi Noem graduated from Hamlin High School, and that same year, she was crowned the South Dakota Snow Queen. So, what exactly is a Snow Queen? It's a statewide festival and organization for young women competing for college scholarships. Their website states, "They experience how to build their network, enhance their speaking abilities, learn about new cultures, and are educated on the vast array of opportunities the State of South Dakota can offer." 

In an interview with Human Events, Noem revealed that winning the scholarship meant that she had to attend her home state's school, Northern State University, despite wanting to attend Missouri College. However, becoming Snow Queen taught Noem valuable leadership qualities, like public speaking. "All those kinds of activities help you for future life because no matter what you're going to do in your life, you need those types of skills that help you visit with people, make your points, and be able to promote the state of South Dakota," she told the Aberdeen News in 2011.

She took over the family farm after her father's death

The Noem family endured a devastating tragedy in their family when Ron Arnold was killed in a farming accident in 1994. At the time of her father's accident, 22-year-old Kristi Noem was attending college, two years married to her husband Bryon Noem, and pregnant with her first child. She recalled the brutal details of her dad's death in her 2022 memoir (via Fox News), "Dad was buried alive underneath tons of cold, damp corn," she wrote.

Noem had envisioned herself working alongside her father on the farm as a career. "He was my best friend. He was the person I admired the most ... and [I] had planned my entire life just to grow up and to work with him and be in business with him," she told CBN News. Because of her father's untimely death, Noem dropped out of college, and she and her husband ran the family farm. Eventually, her siblings and their families joined her, and Noem established a small business of her own: a hunting lodge on the farm.

The death of her father was a significant factor in why she chose to go into politics. "My dad had consistently said, 'We don't complain about things, we fix them,'" she explained to Fox News. "When I lost him and almost lost everything, it made me start showing up and getting involved in policies that really do, tragically, crush families.'"

From rancher to politician

Kristi Noem decided to venture into the world of politics when her siblings took the reigns of the family farm. The future governor began her career by attending farm policy meetings and serving in public service positions. In 2006, Noem ran and was elected as a Republican in the South Dakota House of Representatives, representing the 6th district. In her second term, she became assistant majority leader and served a total of four years. 

In 2010, Noem decided to take the next step and campaign for U.S. Congress. In an extremely close race, she defeated Democratic Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, 48 to 46%. She represented South Dakota's at-large Congressional District from 2011 to 2019.

While serving in Congress, Noem made it her mission to finish school. "I always tell my kids that if you start something, you finish it, and it was the one thing I hadn't finished," she told State. "I also recognized, being in the state Legislature at the time, that I should change my major and take some political science and history classes." She graduated in 2012 from South Dakota State University with a bachelor's degree in political science.

Noem became South Dakota's first female governor

After eight years as a congresswoman working in Washington, D.C., Kristi Noem wanted to return to her home state. In 2018, she announced she would run for governor of South Dakota and won. Noem defeated Democratic candidate Billie Sutton 51 to 47.6%, becoming the closest gubernatorial election in the state since 1986. Noem also made history as she became the first-ever female to govern South Dakota.

During her campaign, Noem stressed the importance of having more women in office. "Across the country that we have folks out there who, you know, women tend to think, 'I don't know if I could do that job.' Men often think, 'I can do that job in an amazing manner,'" she told CBS News. "Women oftentimes need to be recruited. They need to know that they're going to have some support there, and that will help them on their path to victory."

Noem further stated that her gender shouldn't play a role in what issues mattered most to her. "I think that as we look across the country women don't just want to talk about women's issues. We want to talk about everything that's important to our economy, to jobs, to our children's futures. And that's what we've focused on in South Dakota discussions," she said. Noem won reelection in 2022, defeating Democratic candidate Jamie Smith in a 62 to 35.2% landslide vote. 

Noem took a different route during the COVID-19 pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in 2020, mask mandates were ordered throughout the 50 states, stay-at-home orders were issued, and businesses were shut down. However, Kristi Noem took a different approach to the deadly virus. As governor of South Dakota, she did not impose mask mandates, leaving it up to the state's residents to make their own choices. Unlike most other states, Noem kept businesses open. At one point, she even used these restrictions to urge businesses in other states to move to South Dakota.

Many were quick to judge Noem for forgoing government mandates. Rolling Stone labeled Noem "The Covid Queen of South Dakota," referencing her Snow Queen crown. A video op-ed for The New York Times called Noem "savvy but scary" and her relaxed take on COVID-19 a "deadly playbook." The piece also highlighted how South Dakota had one of the worst COVID-19 death rates in the U.S.

In an October 2020 op-ed for the Rapid City Journal, Noem defended her approach. "I'm going to continue to trust South Dakotans to make wise and well-informed decisions for themselves and their families," she wrote while trying to argue that "the risks of COVID-19 are very low." 

She had to deny a rumored affair

In 2021, Governor Kristi Noem's personal life became a hot topic in the tabloids when it was alleged that she was having an affair with political commentator and former Donald Trump aide Corey Lewandowski. A website called American Greatness published the story, even stating that the affair had lasted "for months." Noem had been married to her husband, Bryon Noem, for nearly 30 years, and the couple share three children. As for Lewandowski, he is married to his wife, Alison, and the couple share four kids.

Noem denied the allegations. "These rumors are total garbage and a disgusting lie," she asserted. "These old, tired attacks on conservative women are based on a falsehood that we can't achieve anything without a man's help." In fact, Republican primary candidate Nikki Haley faced similar accusations when affairs rumors between Haley and Donald Trump surfaced.

In 2023, the alleged rumors between Noem and Lewandowski resurfaced as presidential primaries were underway. According to the Daily Mail, which launched its own investigation, the pair were reportedly having an affair since 2019, with the site claiming that the pair's numerous trips together were enough evidence. Neither Noem nor Lewandowski commented on the report, but a representative for the South Dakota governor responded suggesting that the publication's "attack" came because it was "less than a week after [Noem] endorsed Donald J. Trump."

She's a front runner for Donald Trump's VP

Governor Kristi Noem has a long-standing relationship with former president Donald Trump. During the 2020 presidential election, The New York Times speculated that Noem was contending for vice president, replacing Mike Pence. According to Dakota News Now, those rumors were quickly shot down by Noem's communication director, who called it a "bizarre attempt to generate palace intrigue." But as the 2024 presidential race quickens, Noem has been touted as a hopeful to be Trump's running mate and a top choice by Republicans.

In fact, a poll from the Conservative Political Action Conference had Noem and former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy tied for the top pick for vice president. Both Noem and Ramaswamy spoke at the event, along with other potential contenders for VP. The South Dakota governor's speech, in particular, had swayed some Republicans, including a man named Charles Romaine, who stated, "She has had real authority as governor, and she's used it. That's an important experience to be vice president and, maybe, someday, president."

Trump himself has been quite coy about who he wants as his running mate. However, he did mention Noem in a February 2024 town hall (via Politico) on his "short list" of potential vice presidents, including Ramaswamy, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and Florida Republican Representative Byron Donalds.

Noem was plagued by plastic surgery rumors

As Kristi Noem has gained much attention for being Donald Trump's potential vice president, so has her ever-changing looks. The governor of South Dakota has been plagued by plastic surgery rumors, particularly because of speculated changes in her face. Rumors arose that she has gotten Botox for a smoother appearance and possibly lip fillers for a more defined pout. Users online have compared photos of Noem from the start of her political career to 2024, claiming to show a distinct difference in her facial features.

Noem has not spoken publicly about the plastic surgery rumors. In September 2022, she did reveal that she had undergone back surgery after sustaining an injury. The mother of three shared how she was holding up in a video for X, "I won't be able to stand for more than 10, 15 minutes at a time, and I won't be able to get out and about South Dakota like I love to do so much."