- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sen. Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, was taken to George Washington University Hospital yesterday for an undisclosed condition, just a few weeks before his party was scheduled to take control of the upper chamber of Congress.

Spokeswoman Julianne Fisher said her boss was hospitalized with an undiagnosed condition but added that Mr. Johnson did not suffer a stroke or heart attack. She said Mr. Johnson was undergoing more tests at George Washington last night and that no official comment on his condition would be released until today.

A statement issued by his office earlier in the afternoon said the 59-year-old senator was “suffering from a possible stroke” and was “undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team.”

During a phone call with reporters yesterday, Mr. Johnson became disoriented, stuttering in response to a question. He appeared to recover, asking whether there were any additional questions and then signing off.

According to his office, the Capitol physician examined the senator and advised that he be sent to a hospital.

“Senator Johnson is a dear friend to me and to all of us here in the Senate,” said incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Every member of the United States Senate sends our best to him and to his family at this difficult time, and we wish him a full recovery.”

Miss Fisher said Mr. Reid was at George Washington to check on Mr. Johnson.

The White House also wished Mr. Johnson a speedy recovery.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Johnson and his family,” spokesman Alex Conant said.

The hospitalization touched off speculation about control of the upper chamber of Congress. If for any reason Mr. Johnson is unable to continue serving, South Dakota Gov. Michael Rounds, a Republican, would appoint a replacement to fill out the term until the 2008 election. A Republican appointee would give the party majority status in the Senate.

Last month, Democrats won control of the chamber but only narrowly after Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, conceded to his Democratic opponent, James H. Webb Jr. Before his concession, it appeared that Republicans might hold on their majority with a 50-50 tie with Vice President Dick Cheney casting tie-breaking votes. With the Allen loss, Democrats were given a 51-49 majority, with two members of their caucus being independents.

South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson said yesterday that no special restrictions on such an appointment are in place and that a replacement does not have to be from the same political party.

Mr. Johnson, who won re-election in 2002 by 524 votes, is a conservative Democrat and is wary that Senate Democrats are considerably more liberal than his home-state voters. Sen. John Thune, who lost that 2002 race to Mr. Johnson, in 2004 beat incumbent Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

c This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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