Noem hits fellow GOP governors over COVID-19 mandates

South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemSouth Dakota lawmakers release petition to impeach state attorney general OSHA faces big challenge with Biden vaccine mandate Overnight Health Care — Departing FDA vaccine regulators argue against COVID-19 booster shots MORE (R) knocked her fellow GOP governors during a speech on Sunday at a conservative conference, criticizing them for COVID-19 mandates imposed amid the pandemic.

“We've got Republican governors across this country pretending they didn't shut down their states; that they didn't close their regions; that they didn't mandate masks. ... Now I'm not picking fights with Republican governors. All I'm saying is that we need leaders with grit. That their first instinct is the right instinct,” Noem said during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), according to CNN.

Noem throughout the pandemic refused to impose a mask mandate in South Dakota, contending that the choice to wear a face covering is a “personal decision.”

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Maggie Seidel, a spokesperson for the governor, challenged the effectiveness of COVID-19 mitigation measures in November, when the state was seeing a surge in cases. 

“The facts are simple: mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing and contact tracing haven’t worked — in the United States or abroad,” Seidel argued at the time.

The governor on Sunday touted her decision not to impose COVID-19 restrictions, saying she never mandated a “single business” to shutter operations.

“South Dakota did not do any of those [measures]. We didn't mandate. We trusted our people and it told them that personal responsibility was the best answer,” she said, according to CNN.

"Demand honesty from your leaders and make sure that every one of them is willing to make the tough decisions,” Noem told the crowd.

The governor, an ally of former President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE's, is seen as a potential 2024 presidential candidate. In the CPAC straw poll for the 2024 GOP presidential nominee, Noem secured 1 percent of the vote, while Trump saw 70 percent support and 21 percent selected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisCalifornia dreaming did not become reality for Republicans Florida landlord requiring proof of vaccinations from tenants Anthrax was the COVID-19 of 2001 MORE (R).

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Following her speech on Sunday, the governor told reporters that she thinks Trump would be "fantastic" in another White House bid.

“He gets up every day and he fights for this country,” Noem said, according to CNN. “Most people when they watched what he and his family went through would be exhausted and quit, out of discouragement. And the fact that he's still fighting is inspirational to me.”

When asked if she would run for the White House, the governor said she is “not focused on that.”

“I love South Dakota and I worked to come home to South Dakota, so I could be there and be with my people and ride horses for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy," she added.

She would also not say if she would be open to joining Trump as his running mate if the former president wins the GOP nomination in 2024.