Matt Varilek, the Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in South Dakota, believes that his life experience and familiarity with the needs of South Dakotans will convince people to vote for him in the November elections.
Varilek talked about his background, his beliefs and what issues he feels are crucial before his speech at the South Dakota Democratic Party state convention at the Ramkota Hotel and Convention Center Friday night.
Varilek, a former staff member for Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), said his experience working his way up from a modest background gives him an understanding of the needs of people in South Dakota.
"I want to be a voice for middle class and for working-class people," Varilek said.
Varilek, who was born in Yankton, said he has firsthand knowledge of how challenging it can be for a person to lift themselves inot the middle class. His previous jobs included picking rocks off farmers' fields, working as a cook at a fast food restaurant and delivering newspapers.
Economic issues will be the primary focus of his campaign, Varilek said. He wants to make sure the interests of working and middle class people are protected as Congress works to reduce the deficit.
"We need fiscal responsibility, but not in a way that puts the burden on middle class and working class people," he said.
Varilek said he represents a contrast to Kristi Noem, his opponent in the race, who he said has voted in favor of tax breaks for the wealthy, the privatization of Medicare and the elimination of Pell grants for college students.
Varilek said he has received a postive response across the state during the first few months of his campaign.
"I feel people have responded to me because I talk about issues that South Dakotans care about.
Noem, the incumbent, defeated Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in the 2010 election. Noem was born in Watertown, and was a rancher, farmer and a small business owner before her political career began. She served four years in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 2006 to 2010.
Noem has voted in favor of the elimination of the estate tax, reduction of corporate tax rates and simplified tax codes.
Varilek said he understands that he does not have the name recognition Noem enjoys, but he believes he will win the election once people get to know him and his values.
Varilek was the keynote speaker at the convention this year. Also appearing at the convention was Alice Germond, the Democratic National Committee secretary. Germond gave a speech about President Barack Obama's accomplishments and why she believes America needs to re-elect him.