Daschle to Voters: I Have D.C. Clout

Voters will decide on Nov. 2 whether to stick with Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle (search), who says he's able to get things done for South Dakota, or replace him with a Republican who holds different views on many issues.

Former Rep. John Thune (search) argues it's time to get rid of Daschle because the Senate minority leader has lost touch with most South Dakotans.

Daschle, 56, contends he deserves a fourth Senate term because he has the clout to get funding for projects and approval for programs important to the state. His ads point to funding he helped obtain for highway projects, water projects and other endeavors.

"I sit at one of the most powerful desks in the world, and right now that desk belongs to the people of South Dakota," Daschle told The Associated Press.

"Right now we're at the front of the line in the Senate, in the Congress. The question is whether we want to go to the back of the line or stay at the front," the Democratic senator said.

Thune, 43, counters that the election is not about clout, but rather about which candidate best represents the views of most South Dakotans.

"Clout is a double-edged sword with Senator Daschle. His arguments will be that somehow if we don't have him that we'll just fade into the sunset. The reality in my view is that any senator worth his salt is going to get their fair share of the federal dollars," Thune said.

The Republican also says Daschle has played a big role in blocking some of President Bush's judicial nominees and some of the president's proposals on taxes, health care and energy.

"His role as chief obstructionist puts him at great peril in this state because I think people are beginning to see that what he describes as clout is really being used in a way that undermines the agenda a lot of people out here believe in," Thune said.

This year's Senate race is similar in many ways to the 2002 race in which Thune, after six years in the House, challenged Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Thune lost by 524 votes in a race that many saw as a surrogate battle between Bush and Daschle.

Republicans narrowly controlled the Senate after the 2002 elections. The Daschle-Thune race, also expected to be close, will help determine which party controls the Senate after the 2004 elections.

Polls in late September showed Daschle with a small lead, and the race could be decided by efforts to get each candidate's voters to the polls.

Registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats in South Dakota, and Daschle has always won by attracting a sizable portion of GOP voters. Daschle ads featuring prominent Republicans urge South Dakotans to vote for the Democrat.

Daschle, who grew up in Aberdeen, served in the U.S. Air Force in 1969-1972 before going to work as a legislative aide to Democratic Sen. Jim Abourezk in 1973-1977. Daschle was elected to the House in 1978 by 139 votes and was re-elected in 1980, 1982 and 1984.

Daschle was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, defeating Republican Sen. Jim Abdnor. He was elected Senate minority leader in 1994, became majority leader in June 2001, and then again became minority leader after Democrats lost their slim majority in the 2002 elections.

Thune grew up in Murdo and worked as a legislative aide to Abdnor in 1985 and 1986. After Abdnor lost to Daschle, Thune worked for Abdnor again when the former senator was head of the Small Business Administration in 1987 and 1988. Thune then was executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party, director of the state Railroad Division and then director of the South Dakota Municipal League.

Thune ran for the U.S. House in 1996, defeating then-Lt. Gov. Carole Hillard in the Republican primary, and went on to win the general election. He was re-elected in 1998 and 2000 and lost to Johnson in the 2002 Senate race.