Races of the Week:Thune vs. Daschle

The last time a Senate leader of either party went down to defeat in his home state was in 1952, when Majority Leader Ernest McFarland (D-Ariz.) lost re-election in a spectacular race against a young merchant named Barry Goldwater. McFarland was perceived as too much a part of “the mess in Washington,” by Arizona voters, who were willing to jettison his political clout in favor of a fresh candidate with very different ideas.

Now, in what is shaping up as the most-watched race after the Presidential contest, pundits and pols are speculating over whether the same fate will befall present Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.). Will South Dakotans turn out three-termer Daschle (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 14%) in favor of Republican John Thune (lifetime ACU rating: 87%)? Thune held the state’s lone U.S. House seat from 1996-2002 and lost a bid for its other Senate seat in ’02 by a much-disputed 527 votes.

One strong sign that Daschle is in political hot water came when his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), visited the state to plump for opponent Thune. It is almost unprecedented for the Senate leader from one major party to campaign against the leader of the other; Senate Democratic Leader Lyndon Johnson (Tex.), for example, would never have opposed Senate Republican Leader Robert Taft in Ohio.

“But that’s because Johnson, Taft, and just about every modern Senate leader you can think of were all safe for re-election,” said Thune campaign quarterback Dick Waddhams, who has run successful races for s such well-known Colorado conservatives as Gov. Bill Owens and former Sen. Bill Armstrong. “Mr. Daschle is very vulnerable because, in a state whose voters strongly support President Bush, he keeps so much of the Bush agenda bottled up in the Senate — making tax cuts permanent, confirming judges, reauthorizing welfare reform, Energy and Highway bills, and even the CARE Act [ the faith-based initiative that is co-authored by Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman [Conn.].”

In a state with a population of just over 750,000, there is mounting evidence that the 42-year-old Thune is closing in on Daschle: In just the second three months of ’04, Thune raised a handsome $700,000 from his fellow South Dakotans; while Daschle has raised only $400,000 from his fellow South Dakotans — in the past five years!

With help from his fellow conservatives in and out of South Dakota, John Thune can overtake Tom Daschle and win what is fast becoming the “race of the year.”

(John Thune for Senate, P.0. Box 3308, Sioux Falls, S. D. 57101; 605-221-1010).