SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search), denied a fourth term by South Dakota voters, pledged Wednesday to continue working to solve the state's problems.
In a brief speech to several hundred supporters, many of whom sobbed as they cheered and waved campaign signs, the Democratic senator gave no details about what he would do once his Senate term ends and he is replaced by former Rep. John Thune (search).
"So beginning in January, I may not serve in the Senate, but that work is not done and I will continue to work for the state of South Dakota and the people of our state as long as I have an opportunity to do that," Daschle said, with his wife, Linda, and his children at his side.
Daschle's deputy campaign manager, Dan Pfeiffer, said the senator had no plans to challenge the election results. With all precincts reporting, Thune led Daschle by fewer than 5,000 votes.
Daschle said he talked with Thune early Wednesday and wished him well.
Congressional leaders rarely face serious challenges for re-election, but Republicans made Daschle their top target after grumbling that he has been the main obstacle to President Bush's congressional initiatives over the past four years.
Daschle, 56, became the first Senate leader to be unseated since 1952, when Barry Goldwater of Arizona turned then-Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland out of office.
The bruising fight between Daschle and Thune was the nation's most expensive Senate race in one of its least populous states. Thune criticized Daschle not only for blocking Bush's proposals, but also for falling out of touch with South Dakotans on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
But Daschle said he has never forgotten where he came from. He said he respects the people of South Dakota and their decision to vote him out.
"This is a difficult morning, and I don't want anybody in this room to feel angry or sad because all those challenges that motivated us to do what we wanted to do in elective office are still out there," he said.
Many in the crowd had tears in their eyes.
"It's devastating, this loss, and I don't think people understand the ramifications of their choice," said Carol Carlsen of Sioux Falls, a health agency director.
Daschle was born in Aberdeen and was a legislative aide to Democratic Sen. James Abourezk from 1973 to 1977.
He was elected to the U.S. House in 1978 and served four terms before being elected to the Senate in 1986. He was picked as Senate minority leader in December 1994 and became majority leader in June 2001. He became minority leader again after the 2002 midterm elections.