Thursday, September 2, 2004

Polls show Republican John Thune of South Dakota inching closer in his race to unseat Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, with two months remaining until Election Day.

A Republican poll shows Mr. Thune — a former congressman who lost to Sen. Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, in 2002 — pulling slightly ahead of Mr. Daschle, while a Democratic poll shows him at least closing the gap.

The Republican poll, conducted Aug. 24-26, showed Mr. Thune leading 50 percent to 48 percent over Mr. Daschle. The survey of 500 likely voters by Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies had a margin of error of 4.38 percentage points.

“It is clear that John Thune’s advertising is having the desired effect,” Mr. Bolger said. Mr. Thune began running TV ads in mid-July, he said.

The Daschle campaign dismissed the Republican poll as a ploy to encourage monetary contributions to Mr. Thune’s campaign, and cited its own poll showing Mr. Thune trailing Mr. Daschle.

A Democratic poll conducted Aug. 25-30 showed Mr. Daschle leading with 53 percent to Mr. Thune’s 45 percent. The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll surveyed 600 likely voters and had a margin of error of four percentage points.

A Zogby survey in May showed Mr. Daschle leading Mr. Thune by 13 percentage points. That poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. A poll conducted in May by Mason-Dixon, with a margin of error of five percentage points, showed Mr. Daschle in a tighter race, with 49 percent of respondents favoring him and 47 percent supporting Mr. Thune.

Daschle campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said, “There are 10 percent more Republicans in the state than Democrats. … For a Democrat to be up eight points over a Republican with name identification like John Thune and 60 days to go is bad news for the GOP.”

Thune campaign manager Dick Waddams said he does not rely heavily on polls but that one real inference can be made: “Daschle went on TV in July 2003 and as of June 30 he had spent almost $9 million and is now probably up to $12 million, and despite all that, he remains in a highly competitive race.”

Mr. Waddams attributed Mr. Thune’s gains to positive advertisements and Mr. Daschle’s brand of politics to “say one thing at home and do another in Washington.”

“He talked about his stance against gay marriage in South Dakota, then voted against the gay marriage amendment; when he ran in 1978 for the House he was pro-life; now he can be found writing letters for the National Abortion Rights Action League,” Mr. Waddams said.

First elected to the Senate in 1986, Mr. Daschle has been re-elected by handy margins — getting 65 percent of the vote in 1992 and 62 percent in 1998. But this year is particularly close because of Mr. Thune’s name recognition and the stakes of the Senate races, with Democrats needing a net gain of three seats to take back control of the Senate.

But Mr. Waddams said the Thune campaign is surprised that the race is as close as it is.

“Mr. Daschle has built his campaign around his tenure bringing money to the state, and I think it’s fair to say that South Dakotans are looking past that,” the Thune campaign manager said. “Any official worth their salt can bring back money the state is entitled to, but there is more at stake here, and what is critical is how the candidates vote when they are [in Washington].”

Mr. Pfeiffer said it was foolish to think that South Dakotans don’t know what the stakes are.

“John Thune wants the people of South Dakota to give up the power of having a minority leader from their state for a freshmen senator with no experience,” he said.

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