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Noem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech

South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemFlorida Senate appears unlikely to pass transgender sports bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines Missouri Republicans eying Senate bids to hold fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago MORE (R) in her address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday touted her state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, while criticizing other state leaders for resorting to restrictive measures to combat the virus. 

Noem, an ally of former President TrumpDonald TrumpSt. Louis lawyer who pointed gun at Black Lives Matter protesters considering Senate run Chauvin found guilty as nation exhales US says Iran negotiations are 'positive' MORE, began her address in Orlando, Fla., Saturday stating that America needs conservatives for one reason — the year 2020.  

“The question of why America needs conservatives can be answered by just mentioning one single year, and that year is 2020,” she said.  “Everybody knows that almost overnight we went from a roaring economy to a tragic, nationwide shutdown,” she continued, before attributing a record low unemployment rate at the beginning of 2020 to Trump.

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The South Dakota governor went on to say that once the pandemic hit, many states chose to implement widespread shutdowns, which Noem said resulted in significant job losses, school closures and an economic downturn.

“Now let me be clear: COVID didn’t crush the economy, government crushed the economy,” she said. 

Noem added that South Dakota was the only state that never ordered “a single business or church to close,” and also did not issue a shelter-in-place order or a mask mandate, prompting applause and a standing ovation from many in the crowd. 

Noem also took aim at Anthony FauciAnthony FauciJim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing Overnight Health Care: All adults in US now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine | White House launches media blitz to promote vaccines Suspect in custody in deadly Wisconsin tavern shooting MORE, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, claiming that President BidenJoe BidenBiden overruled Blinken, top officials on initial refugee cap decision: report Suicide bombing hits Afghan security forces Jim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing MORE’s chief medical adviser is “wrong a lot,” a comment that also received a standing ovation from conference attendees. 

"We never focused on the case numbers,” Noem explained. “Instead, we kept our eye on hospital capacity. Now Dr. FauciAnthony FauciJim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing Overnight Health Care: All adults in US now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine | White House launches media blitz to promote vaccines Suspect in custody in deadly Wisconsin tavern shooting MORE, he told me that on my worst day I’d have 10,000 patients in the hospital. On our worst day, we had a little over 600.” 

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Despite Noem’s defense of her particular approach to the pandemic, South Dakota saw some of the highest coronavirus cases and deaths per capita of any state in the U.S. this fall, despite having a relatively small population of approximately 884,000. 

In August, the state played host to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, where close to half a million people gathered in a South Dakota county. The event was later connected to some outbreaks in the Dakotas and the surrounding states.  

The state has since recovered from the surge in the fall. 

According to The New York Times coronavirus database, the state has seen a total of more than 112,000 coronavirus infections and 1,886 deaths as a result of the virus. 

Noem has not explicitly said if she is eyeing a 2024 bid for the White House, but her remarks at CPAC may provide a sneak peak of potential talking points in a bid for the GOP presidential nomination.

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Presidential hopefuls often speak at the gathering, providing an opportunity for them to attract widespread recognition and support from the Republican party faithful. 

A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll put Noem at 1 percent among a crowded race of potential 2024 contenders, with a majority saying they would back Trump himself if he should run again. 

A source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill this week that there will be a fundraiser for Noem’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club next month hosted by Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly GuilfoyleKimberly GuilfoyleThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP draws line on taxes; nation braces for Chauvin verdict Guilfoyle named as national chair of Greitens' Senate campaign in Missouri Trump Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle buy M house near Mar-a-Lago MORE

Noem has vocally indicated her closeness with the former president, including late last month when she said she gave Trump a $1,100 bust depicting the former president on Mount Rushmore in July of last year during his controversial Independence Day visit amid the pandemic. 

Trump during his visit delivered an address in front of thousands of people, many of whom were not masked or socially distanced.

Updated 11:33 p.m.