Bush Pushes Thune in South Dakota

President Bush traveled to the Senate majority leader's home state Wednesday to talk policy and raise money for a GOP Senate candidate whose win could tilt control of the one-vote Democratic-led Senate.

Bush brought along Republican Congressman John Thune on his flight aboard Air Force One to South Dakota. Thune was handpicked by Bush to take a run for the Senate, despite Thune's preference to take a shot at the governor's spot.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., had to find his own way from Washington, there was no seat for him on Air Force One.

The president's aides say Daschle was late in accepting his invitation to Mr. Bush's speech.  The delay meant not only did he and Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson not catch a ride, but they were put in very camera-unfriendly seats stage right during a discussion with the state's farmers.

Thune and Republican Gov. Bill Janklow did get a better viewing, and there were broad smiles as the president appealed to the farmers in the audience, pledging his support for corn- based ethanol.

"It's an important part of making sure we become less reliant on foreign sources of energy," Bush said.

Bush also called for a permanent repeal of the estate tax, which he says makes it difficult to keep family farms in the family.

'You get taxed by the income tax, you die you keep paying taxes even after you're dead," he said.

The discussion is aimed at convincing voters to the White House belief that Sen. Johnson is vulnerable in this majority Republican state. Johnson won the state by 51 percent in 1996.

So, the Bush took time on the trip to help replenish Thune's war chest, attending a fund-raiser that was expected to pull in a third of a million dollars.

But with such a national focus on the race, South Dakotans are facing a flood of political advertising. And some are sick of it.

Bush, however, thinks the Republicans can make gains by blaming Senate Majority Leader Daschle for rejecting an energy bill provision that would have opened up the Arctic National wildlife refuge to oil exploration, and for turning his back on the nomination of Mississippi Judge Thomas Pickering to the federal appeals court.

Bush said he's determined to put Trent Lott back in the majority leader's post for the second half of his presidential term. To do that, Bush has agreed to an active fund-raising schedule. He has attended 18 events already this year, and has nearly twice that many still to go.