50 Most Beautiful People for 2011: Page 8 of 50

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Age: 39
Hometown: Castlewood, S.D.
Political party: Republican
Relationship status: Married

In the sea of white-haired men who dominate Congress, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) stands out. Not because she could make a potato sack look fashionable, but because she traveled a different path to Washington — one that included learning how to drive a semi-truck and a combine as a teenager and holding her own with the work that needed to be done on the family ranch.

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“I was expected to help with the chores, even though they were tough and they were often dirty ones,” Noem said earlier this summer in a series of coordinated floor speeches designed to highlight the women of the House GOP. “I grew up thinking that I could do anything that the boys could do, and that way of thinking has certainly stayed with me.”

The freshman lawmaker got elected in part by touting her real-life experience. She interrupted her college coursework to help run her family’s ranch after her father died unexpectedly, and was involved in running the family restaurant. Noem has raised Angus cattle, shown quarter horses, run a hunting operation and headed an insurance agency with her husband, Bryon. Last fall’s campaign, in which she defeated Democratic incumbent and 50 Most Beautiful People alumna Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, was rife with images of Noem with gently mussed hair near a bale of hay or leaning against a fence post in the pasture.

Noem quickly became a star in Washington, having been asked by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his advisers to join the GOP leadership team before even getting into town.

“I didn’t run because I was a woman, and I didn’t expect people to vote for me because I was a woman,” she said in the June floor speech. “I worked to earn each vote [by] talking about what was important in this country.”

Noem declined to participate in an interview for this feature.

–Kris Kitto

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