South Dakota is holding a special election to fill Bill Janklow’s unexpired term; Democrat Stephanie Herseth and Republican Larry Diedrich are squaring off, with Herseth enjoying a slight lead. The election is a tuneup for November’s big contest between Tom Daschle, who is fighting for his political life, and former Congressman John Thune.
A firestorm has now broken out over a Herseth rally attended by Daschle and Senator Tim Johnson, at which Johnson went a bit overboard:
When Stephanie Herseth fills this seat, we are going to have a rising star in the House of Representatives. And how sweet it’s going to be on June second when the Taliban wing of the Republican Party finds out what’s happened in South Dakota.
Professor Jon Lauck’s Daschle v. Thune has more. Johnson apparently forgot that he was in South Dakota, where most people are Republicans, not Washington, where nearly everyone is a Democrat.
Dietrich seized the opportunity:
To have a comment made to indicate that the type of people that are supporting me is very disappointing and it’s unfortunate that politics has stooped to this low in an election process that’s been held in very high esteem.
I hope that’s a misquote. But, grammatical or not, it sent Johnson scrambling:
“It was sort of a flip remark,” Johnson explained. “Obviously they’re not literally the Taliban.” The Senator says he was blasting a small part of the Republican Party that compared him to Osama bin Laden during the 2002 campaign. “It has nothing to do with Larry Diedrich. It has to with a very small faction who have attacked my religious faith, attacked my patriotism; and if they take it badly I regret that, but it has nothing to do with Larry Diedrich. It has nothing to do with 99-percent of the Republican Party. I’m proud of my Republican support. I’m proud of all the people in South Dakota, except a small faction.”
Needless to say, no Republican compared Tim Johnson to Osama bin Laden or attacked his patriotism or religious faith in 2002. But that isn’t where Johnson got the Taliban reference, which is a staple at Democratic functions. The problem that Johnson, Daschle and Herseth all have is that unless they get a considerable number of Republican votes, they lose. That is why for many years, dating to George McGovern’s time at least, South Dakota Democrats have had to carefully distinguish between what they say in Washington and what they say when they’re talking to those pesky constituents.