- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, would lose to a prominent state Republican, according to a poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Former Rep. John Thune was picked by 46 percent of South Dakota voters over Mr. Daschle's 44 percent, according to the survey conducted last month by McLaughlin & Associates.
Mr. Thune served three terms as South Dakota's lone House member before stepping down in 2002 to challenge Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson and losing by just 524 votes.
The Bush administration had recruited Mr. Thune for the Johnson race and is expected to back him in the 2004 Republican primary, if he decides to run again, for Mr. Daschle's seat.
Mr. Thune has said he hasn't decided whether to run again, but he told the Yankton Press & Dakotan this week that he remains "in constant contact" with the White House.
According to the Republican poll, Mr. Thune enjoys a 63 percent favorable rating statewide, compared with Mr. Daschle's 56 percent.
Daschle campaign manager Steve Hildebrand said the poll's numbers do not especially worry the senator's team.
"We're a very Republican state in a very partisan environment 20 months before the election," he said. "We're not too concerned."
Mr. Daschle is home for the Easter recess running for his fourth term. He has about $2 million in his campaign account.
As the nation's top elected Democrat, Mr. Daschle has the tricky duty of challenging a president who enjoys an approval rating higherthan 70 percent and running in a Republican-leaning state.
Mr. Daschle "is as vulnerable as he has ever been," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "It's a Republican state and Daschle has been very critical of a popular president."
On the eve of the war with Iraq, Mr. Daschle said President Bush "failed so miserably at diplomacy" that the United States was forced into war with Iraq with limited support from European allies.
In the poll, 91 percent of South Dakotans said they "are aware of Daschle's attack upon President Bush" and 41 percent said they "are less likely to vote for Daschle due to his harsh attack."
Mr. Hildebrand said that finding was unremarkable and that his state's voters understand Mr. Daschle's roles.
"South Dakota has become accustomed to him wearing two hats," the spokesman said. "He fights for South Dakotans and, at the same time, he is the leader of his party."
Republicans like to point out that Mr. Bush won that state with 60 percent of the vote in 2000, but Democrats point out that Mr. Daschle won reelection in 1998 with 62 percent.
"South Dakota is famous for ticket-splitting," Mr. Hildebrand said.
Also mentioned as a possible opponent in the 2004 race is Rep. Bill Janklow, South Dakota Republican and a former four-term governor.
Mr. Janklow, who won his first term last year with 53 percent, is not actively thinking of a Senate run, but told local reporters last week: "I haven't ruled out anything."
Spokesman Lee Cohen said Tuesday, "He's focusing all of his energy and attention to his job in Congress."


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