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SD Dems running for US House seat make final push

SHARE SD Dems running for US House seat make final push

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota primary voters were set to choose a Democratic nominee Tuesday for the state's lone U.S. House seat, a race pitting a better-funded candidate against one who gained national attention from an Internet video that went viral.

The winner between Matt Varilek and Jeff Barth moves onto this fall's highest-profile race in the state — the one against Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, who has raised more than five times more than the two Democratic hopefuls combined.

Varilek, 37, is a former member of U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson's staff, and Barth, 60, is a retired telephone company technician and member of the Minnehaha County Commission.

Bartender Tyler Leise, 31 said Barth won him over with a pamphlet that was handed to him while eating at a downtown restaurant.

"He seemed like he's real down to earth," said Leise, 31, of Sioux Falls, who cast his ballot early Tuesday evening at the Minnehaha County Administration building.

Polling stations were set to close throughout the state at 7 p.m. local time. Poll workers reported light turnouts, aided by the inevitability of Republican Mitt Romney's presidential nomination.

Democrat Rebekah Cradduck, 58, said she voted for Varilek because she feels he has the best chance of defeating Noem in November. But she credited Barth as being a worthy challenger who helped bring attention to the race.

"It was such a low-key campaign for so long," said Cradduck, vice president of the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations. "Jeff Barth gets a lot of credit for engaging it and kicking it up a couple notches."

Barth has gained attention nationwide for a recent Internet campaign video, in which he described living in remote countries such as Iceland, serving six years in the military and having ridden an ostrich. Barth, who planned to spend Tuesday in County Commission meetings, said Monday, "I think I'm winning."

Varilek continued door-knocking and media interviews Tuesday. Some voters across the state were receiving recorded calls from former Sen. Tom Daschle, a Varilek supporter.

"We're not taking anything for granted, so I'm going to keep going 100 percent until the votes are counted," he said Monday.

Secretary of State Jason Gant said he expected 25-30 percent of South Dakota's registered voters will cast ballots in the primary election, a turnout slightly lower than the average over the past decade. Gant said he expects a modest turnout because the Republican presidential nomination already has been decided.

Both Democratic congressional candidates are from Sioux Falls, but they took vastly different approaches in their campaigns.

Barth stressed that he is an outsider who has little to do with Congress in his three decades working for a telephone company and his six years as a county commissioner.

Varilek emphasized working his way through several colleges before spending seven years working for Johnson, the last five in South Dakota as the senator's economic development directors. He said that experience taught him how to work as a member of Congress.

No independent polling was done in the race, but Varilek was considered the front-runner because he raised far more money than Barth and gained endorsements from Johnson and former Sens. Daschle and George McGovern. Varilek had raised more than $300,000 through the May 16 reporting date, while Barth had raised just $45,000, with about half that coming from a loan he made to his own campaign.

While both Democrats insist that Noem can be defeated in November, that task is likely to be challenging. Noem is a Republican in a heavily Republican state, and she had raised nearly $1.8 million by May 16.

Associated Press writers Kristi Eaton and Dirk Lammers contributed to this report.