GOP Head Says Daschle 'More Beatable' in 2004 By Jeff Gannon Talon News November 4, 2003 WASHINGTON (Talon News) -- Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie previewed the 2004 election during a press briefing last week for reporters. Gillespie was particularly optimistic about Republicans' chances to expand their Senate majority. "The seats that are in play for the Democrats are much more vulnerable than the seats that are in play for Republicans," Gillespie said. "They have a bigger number to defend ... and even where their incumbents are they are in shakier territory than we are." Gillespie believes one of the most vulnerable Democrat seats is that of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). He said that Daschle's likely challenger, former Rep. John Thune (R-SD) would fare well against the three-term incumbent. The RNC chairman told Talon News, "My own view is that Daschle is more beatable than Johnson was and that Thune would have a better chance of defeating Daschle." He says he came to that conclusion "given the nature of the electorate, the composition of the electorate in the presidential year, [and] given Daschle's national profile." Thune has yet to commit to another Senate race, having lost to Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) a year ago. Election watchers say the factors in play in a Daschle-Thune match up would be significantly different from the 2002 contest. Johnson, a likable but undistinguished senator, campaigned on the importance of maintaining the Democrats' hold on the legislative body. He argued that South Dakota would reap the rewards of keeping Daschle as majority leader. Enough voters seemed to agree, but a Johnson victory could not counter the wave of Republican wins that relegated the Democrats to the minority once again. Most political experts agree that Democrats are unlikely to regain control of the Senate in 2004, so voters will need to find other reasons to return Daschle to Washington. The incumbent recognizes this as well, prompting a series of television "image ads" that began 18 months before the election. His campaign reported spending more than $1 million since June. The South Dakota senator recently made a West Coast swing during which he garnered significant contributions from trial lawyers, unions, and abortion rights groups. Polls show Daschle running dead even with Thune, but comes in around 47%. Historically, when an incumbent polls below 50%, defeat is the likely outcome. Even more troubling has to be Daschle's unfavorable rating, now at 36%. Republican Thune can also credibly use the same argument that Johnson successfully employed in 2002, that if elected, he would be a member of the majority and better positioned to deliver for South Dakota. In a state where George W. Bush got 60% of the vote in 2000, the importance of that factor cannot be overlooked. The reelection campaign of President Bush will also have an impact. Undoubtedly Daschle's opponent will point to the senator's obstruction of the president's agenda and the filibuster of judicial nominees. His opponent is expected to focus on the liberal voting that seems oddly out of sync with South Dakota's more conservative constituency. As an example, South Dakota has no state income tax or estate tax, yet Daschle opposed the president's tax cuts and permanent repeal of the death tax. His recent votes in favor of the ban on partial-birth abortion and protection of gun manufacturers from liability lawsuits might be seen as evidence of a concern for his record. The conduct of the election itself will result in additional attention from the RNC. Following allegations of election fraud in the Johnson-Thune race in 2002 that saw incumbent Tim Johnson narrowly defeat John Thune by 524 votes, legislation was signed into law earlier this year that requires photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Becky Red Earth-Villeda, a contract worker with the Democrat Party goes on trial in December after being accused of forging signatures on absentee ballot applications in the weeks prior to the election. Lyle Nichols has already pleaded guilty for a similar scheme. But ultimately it may be the national trends that work against Daschle. His survival could be threatened should the Democrat presidential candidate suffer the same kind of landslide defeat that another South Dakota favorite son, George McGovern, suffered in 1972. This is a point that is not lost on the Republican National Committee, which believes Daschle's defeat would be a painful rebuke to the party that only 10 years ago controlled the House, Senate, and White House. Another likely factor will be the nagging controversy over the lobbying activities of the senator's wife. Her annual income, estimated to be $6 million, provides a stark contrast to the down-home Daschle. Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA) questioned the propriety of Congressional spouses working as lobbyists in his recently released book. Without mentioning anyone by name, Miller wrote, "Talk about 'gathering ye rosebuds while ye may.' It gives a new meaning to 'pillow talk.' I cast no aspersions on the ones who do this, nor do I doubt their honesty. But in a business where 'perception' is just about the same as 'reality,' it looks suspicious as hell. It looks like someone's riding the gravy train. It does not pass the smell test." That, combined with the embarrassment of facts uncovered by Talon News that showed the senator's wife to be a resident of Washington, DC provides ample ammunition for Daschle's critics. A South Dakota political pundit remarked to Talon News, "With Daschle needing every vote he can get, it's ironic that his wife won't be able to vote for him!" Link Senator Phil Graham of Florida is not running for reelection in 2004. That may be another added seat the Republicans.