I’m spending a few days in South Dakota, so I may as well pass on what I’ve been hearing about the Daschle-Thune race.
The conventional wisdom here was that Daschle was in trouble, even before Tim Giago announced that he will run in the general election as an independent. Daschle has been inundating local television stations with ads; they never mention his positions on any issues, but relate exclusively to constituent service. Polls have consistently indicated that notwithstanding the millions of dollars he has spent (while Thune has done nothing), Daschle’s lead is stuck at around three to five points.
This morning’s Sioux Falls Argus Leader (not yet available online, apparently) reports that Daschle called Giago, a Lakota Indian, to try to talk him out of the race. Giago declined to withdraw.
The key to the election is South Dakota’s Republican voters. South Dakota is a heavily Republican (albeit often unpredictable) state. Recent polling shows support for the Iraq war at better than two to one, and strong opposition to gay marriage. Tom Daschle can be elected in South Dakota only because a significant percentage of Republicans–around 20%–have cynically chosen to vote for him on the theory that he brings money into the state. Now that he is no longer Majority Leader, many of these Republicans presumably will re-think the calculus of self-interest.
If Thune can sweep the Republican vote–which seems likely, in a year when people are taking politics seriously and a popular Republican president is heading the ticket–Daschle is finished.
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