Not too long ago, Kristi Noem was an unknown governor leading one of America’s least populated states.
But after courting attention as a conservative culture warrior, the 51-year-old leader of South Dakota is in serious contention to be Donald Trump’s 2024 running mate.
Mr Trump recently confirmed he was eyeing Ms Noem as a vice presidential candidate, days after sharing a stage with her beneath a “Trump Noem 2024” sign.
“Kristi is a warrior for American values,” he told his supporters.
It is the culmination of years of strategic positioning by Ms Noem, who installed a TV studio in her office months after becoming governor in 2018 and is now a regular on Fox News.
It is an impressive rise for a former state “snow queen” champion who dropped out of university to run her family farm following her father’s untimely death.
It was an alternative form of education, “the school of hard knocks”, she said.
She later spent almost a decade as a low profile backbencher in the US House of Representatives, simultaneously completing her degree.
Since being elected South Dakota’s first female governor, she has not shied away from national political battles on contentious issues.
It was her refusal to impose restrictions at the height of the pandemic that first won her the attention of the Republican base.
She has since been on a crusade to earn the label of the country’s most conservative governor in a competitive political market - vying against the likes of Ron DeSantis.
Ms Noem has not shied away from the fight, picking a high-profile battle with the Florida governor when her staff accused him of not taking a hard enough stance on abortion.
Like Mr DeSantis, she was overwhelmingly re-elected as her state’s governor last year.
She made headlines again when she told the National Rifle Association earlier this year that her two-year-old granddaughter had multiple guns.
“She already has a shotgun and she already has a rifle and she’s got a little pony named Sparkles too. So the girl is set up,” she said.
As the governor of an often overlooked state, Ms Noem masterfully utilised one of South Dakota’s greatest assets - Mount Rushmore - to catch Mr Trump’s attention.
The former president is known to have aspirations of having his own image etched alongside the monument’s four presidents.
She secured his attendance at a massive July 4 event at the national landmark while he was president in 2020, and greeted him with a 4ft replica that included his likeness.
Mr Trump showed his pleasure by inviting her to fly back to Washington with him on Air Force One.
It was the start of speculation that Ms Noem was destined for higher office.
Insiders say Ms Noem considered her own presidential run in 2024, but ultimately endorsed Mr Trump at an event earlier this month.
As he took to the stage, the 77-year-old hugged Ms Noem as a sign flashed up reading “Trump Noem 2024” on a giant screen above them.
Republican strategists believe she could be setting her sights even higher in 2028.
Ms Noem has made no secret of her ambitions, saying she would agree to be Mr Trump’s running mate “in a heartbeat”.
A telegenic mother-of-three, Ms Noem has many qualities that make her an attractive choice for Mr Trump.
— Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) September 9, 2023
She has a Trumpian flair for politics, coupling strong media performances with incendiary rhetoric to challenge even fellow Republicans whom she calls “wolves in sheeps clothing”.
She has cultivated an image as a down-to-earth conservative rancher in contrast with Washington elites, sharing images of herself shooting, riding and spending time with her children and grandchildren.
Advisers to Mr Trump say he lamented not putting a woman on the ticket in 2020.
He reportedly considered replacing Mike Pence with his UN ambassador Nikki Haley at the time.
Some Republicans speculate Ms Haley, who is running for president in 2024, is still angling for the role.
Other Trump challengers - including South Carolina senator Tim Scott and entrepreneur Vivek Ramswamy - are said to be in contention.
In an interview with NBC News over the weekend, Mr Trump said he liked the “concept” of putting a woman on the ticket, adding: “But we’re going to pick the best person”.
“She’d be one of the people I’d consider,” he said of Ms Noem.
Like any potential candidate, Ms Noem has her drawbacks. She has been forced to defend herself against nepotism allegations more than once.
And she triggered conservative backlash when she reversed course on a ban on transgender girls playing female sports.
She has also attracted persistent rumours over her close relationship with Corey Lewandowski, 49, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager.
Last week, Mail Online reported on claims the married governor, who often champions family values, had been involved in a years-long affair with Mr Lewandowski, who is also married.
Ms Noem has previously called the rumours “total garbage and a disgusting lie”.
“These old, tired attacks on conservative women are based on a falsehood that we can’t achieve anything without a man’s help,” she said.