October 16, 2004


Fighting For His Life (Kirk Victor, Oct. 15, 2004 , National Journal)

Daschle's campaign is, by necessity, geared to attract undecided voters. Without the support of undecideds, or "persuadables," and without a chunk of the Republican vote, Daschle cannot win. South Dakota's voter-registration rolls reveal an 11 percentage-point GOP advantage, and many registered independents lean Republican. The minority leader's task is further complicated because President Bush is expected to handily defeat Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry at the top of the ticket in this generally conservative state.

Not only that, Daschle's Republican opponent, former Rep. John Thune, has plenty of charm and affability to go with his movie-star good looks. He has the tall, lean build of a basketball player -- which he was, for his high school team in Murdo, a town of about 600 west of the Missouri River -- and folks in both parties invariably refer to him as a "nice guy." And Thune is very well known in these parts. He was the state's lone congressman from 1996 to 2002, and then he lost that nail-biter Senate contest against Johnson two years ago. So the former congressman knows plenty about running statewide campaigns.

To top it off, the national GOP establishment is salivating at the prospect of knocking off Daschle, the man they often deride as "the obstructionist-in-chief." A standard line from Sen. George Allen, R-Va., the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, tells it all: "When John Thune wins in South Dakota, that's like picking up three seats in itself."

Although you won't hear Daschle or his staff describe the race in such stark terms, he is in a pitched battle for his political survival. This is the senator's toughest challenge since he first won election to the Senate in 1986 by defeating Republican Sen. James Abdnor by about 10,000 votes, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Daschle is clearly pulling out all the stops. His broadcast ad blitz alone has been so massive that by July, he had aired more such commercials than some candidates will put up during their entire campaign, according to an analysis by The Cook Political Report. Thune, by contrast, did not even start to air commercials until July.

Dick Wadhams, Thune's tenacious campaign manager who is credited with helping Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., win an uphill re-election bid in 2002, chortled that despite Daschle's heavy spending, the race remains within the margin of error in statewide polling. Wadhams said that money will not be decisive, because both sides have the funds to make their cases. But he thinks that Daschle blundered in starting to advertise so early, inundating the state's voters, who already were fatigued from the similar, relentless barrage just two years ago in the Johnson-Thune Senate race.

"Daschle went on TV in July of 2003, and he had a vacuum for an entire year. We didn't go on until July of this year," Wadhams said. "Despite such heavy television, radio, mail, and newspaper ads, the race didn't change. One can only conclude that there is a resistance to the minority leader being re-elected."

Hildebrand dismissed that view. "We have been on the air for a year and a half, and we are ahead," he countered. "The voters are not that fatigued."

As each side throws elbows, there is no doubt that the Daschle-Thune contest is the marquee Senate race this year. In the end, a few thousand votes will probably make the difference. That a prominent leader is in such an all-out struggle to keep his job is significant. After all, the last time a top Senate leader lost a re-election bid was more than 50 years ago, in 1952, when Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland, D-Ariz., was defeated by Republican Barry Goldwater.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but they don't actually kill him if he loses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2004 9:35 AM

But Linda might: without her husband in the Senate, her lobbying power will dry up quickly.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 16, 2004 10:23 AM

Given the Democrats' cries of voter fraud even beofre this year's election, the ironic thing here is that if the South Dakota Democrats hadn't materialized those ghost votes from the Indian reservations to defeat Thune in 2002, Daschele would have had a far lower-profile candidate as his opponent this year and would likely have had a better chance at re-election.

Posted by: John at October 16, 2004 10:33 AM

From what I gather, the GOP is policing the Rez pretty carefully this year. That way Daschle won't get the vote of every Indian from Sioux Falls to Calcutta.

Posted by: Bart at October 16, 2004 11:25 AM


Paste that onto your browser, break out your credi card, and send a few bucks to the man. It would be so sweet to see him win.

Posted by: genecis at October 16, 2004 1:55 PM

Re Bart - I thought I saw somewhere that some of the Indian reservation reps are endorsing/helping Thune. If true this should help Thune immensely.

Posted by: AWW at October 16, 2004 2:24 PM

Since Indians on the Rez are as much a bloc vote as the Satmar Hasidim of Kiryas Joel it makes a lot of sense for Thune to figure out a way to bribe them so he can get their support. It isn't a large place and any bribe is not a big number.

Posted by: Bart at October 16, 2004 4:33 PM

Will Daschle be receiving votes from ears of corn?

Given his embrace of ethanol, someone should be watching.

Posted by: ratbert at October 16, 2004 11:05 PM

re Next Mayor— Why not? He's already established residency, so it wouldn't be like he's a carpetbgger like St.Hilary or Keyes...

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 17, 2004 12:13 AM
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