By Jennifer Rubin

When I spoke to her by phone yesterday afternoon, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) was still confirming her Democratic "date" for the State of the Union address. However, the new at-large congresswoman from South Dakota is not one to confuse symbolism with reality. As she put it when assessing the president, "There is a big difference between presentation and action."

She brings to Congress a down-to-earth demeanor ("Hi, this is Kristi," she begins the interview) and a no-nonsense perspective that stems, in large part, from the fact that she hasn't spent her whole life in politics. She says, "I didn't grow up in a political family." Talk at home was about ranching and farming. It was not until 2006 that she was elected to the state legislature, and she still describes herself as a "mother and small business owner."

It is that gap between the behavior of a small business owner (in her case, a family ranch) and politicians in Washington that spurred her to go to D.C. In her mind, Washington needed "someone with common sense." She says that "nothing really surprises her" about Washington, but the difference between businesses that must keep expenditures below revenue and the federal government's approach to finances is striking. "There is some logic to business," she explains. "People have had to rein in spending."

Noem beat the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. As the A.P. reported:

Herseth Sandlin had won her two previous re-election bids by wide margins but faced a tough challenge from Noem in a race that drew a lot of advertising from political parties and interest groups.

The 39-year-old Herseth Sandlin sought a fourth full term in Congress as she argued she has fought against excessive spending by voting against bailouts and the health care law.

Noem tells me that excessive spending was the main factor in her race. She says, "We had someone there for years" who had sat by or actively endorsed the spending that now is responsible for our fiscal trainwreck.

Looking ahead to the State of the Union, she's not in favor of more spending, whatever Obama calls it. "I certainly wouldn't support that," she says. In her mind, Obama is still operating under the false assumption. She says, "We know government spending hasn't created jobs."

She also opposes huge pieces of regulation like ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial services regulations that are "intrusive" and crush jobs. She finds a "disconnect" between Obama's new rhetoric on reducing regulation and his policy choices. "What he should be doing if he truly was concerned" about oppressive regulations that crush jobs, she says, is "to start with his health-care reform and financial regulations" legislation. She says that small businesses are struggling under the burden of oppressive federal rules, noting that the regulation requiring filing of 1099's for all health-care expenditures alone would cause businesses to close up shop.

She thinks her Republican colleagues understand the mandate from the voters. She points to the weekly effort to make spending cuts. "We started with our own budgets." Thirty-five million, she concedes, isn't a lot when it comes to the federal budget, "But it shows our dedication."

She's not following her colleagues' stunt of sleeping in her office. Showing her practical streak, she says she considered it. "And then I say how small the bathroom was." Instead, she has a small two-bedroom apartment close to the Hill. She does, however, stay close to her South Dakota constituents and goes back home every week.

As for South Dakota politics, she speaks in glowing terms about Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is reportedly considering a presidential run. She calls him a "strong leader" and credits him with providing her valuable advice. As for the presidency, she says, "I certainly would support him. He would be a great man to head our country."

She, like Thune, did break the pattern in South Dakota, which has been reliably in the Republicans' corner on the presidency but has sent liberal Democrats to Congress. She says, "I think in general the public in South Dakota has been attracted to the person. Now they are also finding out that they have to hold them accountable for how they vote. That's been an educational process."

As for her own learning in the ways of Beltway politics, she will have a chance to leave her mark on the Natural Resources Committee (key to her home state that has nine Native American tribes who come under the committee's jurisdiction) and the Education and Workforce Committee. (She's in favor of giving parents "flexibility" and wants to relook at the terminated D.C. voucher program "that certainly had merit.") Her ease in articulating conservative positions, her genial personality, and, candidly, her stunning good looks have already helped her make a splash among conservative activists. But ultimately, she will have to show her constituents that she is not simply another go-a-longer and really is determined to change the way Washington works.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 25, 2011; 9:30 AM ET

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