Republican Senate candidate John Thune (search) was joined by U.S. Rep. Mary Bono (search), R-Calif., on Saturday as he campaigned at three Sioux Falls businesses owned by women.

"I feel really good about where it is at," Thune said of his campaign, which he said has different dynamic than in 2002, when he lost to Sen. Tim Johnson by 524 votes.

This year, Thune said he thinks he is tying his opponent, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (search), to a national Democratic agenda that's at odds with South Dakota's interests.

"He has to carry the water for his caucus in Washington," Thune said. "There is a feeling out there this year that people want change. They are waiting for you to give them a reason."

Daschle was meeting with tribal chairmen Saturday and could not be reached for comment.

Bono said she realizes Thune has a strong opponent. But Republicans have defeated several strong politicians recently, and Thune can do likewise, she said.

"I have the highest respect for John," Bono said of Thune, who served three House terms before stepping down in 2002.

Thune said South Dakotans want to discuss local issues more than the war in Iraq. Still, the Iraqi conflict is "in the background," he said. "There is uncertainty. I hear it when I speak to veterans groups and to people who have family or friends there."

Pam Taylor showed Thune and Bono around her store, Taylor's Pantry, and said Thune supports a House-passed measure to let small business owners form bargaining units to seek a better deal on health insurance.

"The House has passed it several times and the Senate will not take it up," Taylor said.

Daschle "will not allow it to come up in the Senate for a vote," she said

A Daschle campaign spokesman, Dan Pfeiffer, said Daschle opposes the House bill backed by the insurance industry but supports the concept of allowing small businesses and individuals without employer-based coverage to pool their health insurance purchases.

Bono also spoke to the South Dakota Federation of Republican Women (search) Saturday night.