BY Aliyah Shahid
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Christine O'Donnell was so yesterday.
The next rising Tea Party star — and money machine — could be Kristi Noem, a mother of three, rancher and now the GOP House candidate in South Dakota who has raised more campaign cash than any Republican House challenger in the U.S.
The 38-year-old, who's a state representative and relatively unknown on the national scene, has raised $1.1 million in the last three months — roughly twice as much as her Democratic incumbent opponent, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, ABC News reported.
In their quest to win back control of the House, Republicans have set their sights on Dems like Herseth Sandlin, who ranks among the top GOP targets in November.
And already Noem has been compared by bloggers (with both criticism and praise) to her fellow Tea Party darlings, Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell, for their similar looks, personality, and seemingly quick rise to stardom.
Recent surveys indicate the race will be tight. According to a Rasmussen poll released last week, 47% said they would vote for Noem, compared to Herseth Sandlin's 44%. But since there was a 4.5% margin of error, the race remains a tossup.
And Noem isn't the only Tea Party favorite with an impressive war chest. Sharron Angle, Nevada's GOP Senate hopeful, raised a whopping $14 million in the past three months—the biggest fundraising quarter for any Senate hopeful this year (excluding those who have tapped into their personal fortunes).
Noem also has more cash on hand with $777,000 compared to her opponent's $500,000. And Noem's three-month cash-raising spree is more than what Herseth Sandlin raised in 2006 and 2008 combined.
Ken Blanchard, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen, who also runs a conservative blog, told Sioux Falls newspaper, the Argus Leader, that supporters are losing faith in Herseth Sandlin.
"Raising half the funds of a challenger in a race where you're tied or behind in the polls is a very bad sign for an incumbent," he said.
But the Dems are fighting back, branding Noem as having a "reckless disregard for the law" after her driving record surfaced -- she received 20 speeding tickets and other traffic violations in the past two decades.
And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee stressed to the Wall Street Journal that reduced funding wasn't akin to a lack of support or enthusiasm for Herseth Sandlin, who labels herself an independent, moderate voice in South Dakota.
"The DCCC has invested heavily in this race and remains fully committed to Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's campaign," said Chairman Chris Van Hollen.