The omnipresent Sarah Palin has made it a point to wield her considerable influence to help like-minded Republicans get elected this November. In doing so, she has become a perpetual lightning rod for Democrats and valuable commodity for social-conservatives who value her stamp of approval. And that approval apparently carries considerable weight in South Dakota, where candidates have swaddled themselves in Palinesque aesthetics in order to boost their popularity.

In a dual profile for The Washington Post, Philip Rucker examines how both the Democratic and Republican congressional hopefuls (dubbed "the battle of the babes") in South Dakota have garnered, and sometimes embraced, inevitable comparisons to the former Alaskan governor. The 'Mama Grizzly' is Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who grew up on her families farm in the state, touts her support for gun rights and opposition to health care reform and a cap-and-trade bill. And the 'next Sarah Palin'? That would be Rep. Kristi Noem, who "rides horses, herds cattle, hunts elk (with a bow), shoots prairie dogs (with a rifle) and skins pheasants."

Rucker weighs the campaign's importance:

But more than anything, this campaign, playing out across the small cities and prairie towns that dot South Dakota's vast terrain, is a window into the heartland values of fiscal responsibility and government restraint that promise to shape outcomes this fall as well as in Obama's 2012 reelection bid.