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John Thune challenges Daschle for U.S. Senate
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John Thune says he'll make formal announcements around the state in about a month. (MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)
Some political analysts say South Dakota's race for the United State Senate just became the closest watched race in the nation. Former Republican congressman John Thune announced his intentions to challenge Democratic leader Tom Daschle. Thune ran against Senator Tim Johnson in 2002 and lost by just over 500 votes.

Sioux Falls, S.D. — John Thune received a standing ovation when he entered a banquet hall filled with hundreds of Republican faithful. The gathering is an annual fundraiser. Some in the crowd wore stickers from John Thune's last campaign. Out in the lobby new bumper stickers were for sale that say "Dump Daschle".

People haven't forgotten the last senate race in South Dakota. An ad blitz hit the airwaves for more than a year. Thune says it's too early to start again, but he has to.

"The most notable reality is one that I'm all too familiar with and that is the daunting task of raising the resources necessary to run a senate campaign," said Thune. "Equally important is building a campaign organization. They both take an enormous amount of time and whether I like it or not that would have to begin soon," he said.

Thune predicts money won't be an issue. He'll raise plenty of money from Republicans around the country. He says he'll make formal announcements around the state in about a month.

"I did want to make my intentions known and therefore want to inform you this evening that starting tomorrow I will begin filing the necessary paperwork to enable me to raise money and start organizing a campaign for the United State's Senate," Thune announced to a roar of applause.

Thune says he'll talk about campaign issues later. He says a senator from South Dakota needs to put South Dakota first and put aside national politics.

"I think there's way too much politics, way too much obstructionism going on in the US Senate these days and I just think those are things we can improve on and do a better job on and provide some real leadership there. The Senate needs people who are going to step up and do the right thing," said Thune.

Republican leaders have called Tom Daschle an "obstructionist" for the last two years. Daschle says it was part of a political machine put in place following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In a prepared statement released after Thune's announcement, Daschle says he has worked with President's of both parties to do what's best for South Dakota. He says, "I look forward to the campaign as an opportunity to discuss my record of accomplishment for South Dakota and to put forward my ideas."

Bill Richardson, chairman of the University of South Dakota Political Science Department, says the Thune versus Daschle match-up puts South Dakota at the top of senate races to watch this year. Richardson says the Bush administration wants to get rid of Tom Daschle.

"Because he is the titular and symbolic head of the national Democratic party in so many ways. And so much of what the Democratic party has moved to oppose of the Bush agenda falls on Tom Daschle's shoulders whether he wants it or not. So he is symbolically a very important figure for the Republicans to try to topple," says Richardson.

Recent polls show if the election were held today Daschle would receive 50 percent of the vote and John Thune 44 percent. Richardson says it will soon become a closer race.

"That's relatively low for Daschle actually to be at 50 percent at this point in time when he has expended a great deal of energy, a great deal of time and a great deal of money in this state about his own re-election without a candidate to oppose him. So yes, I think it will close very quickly," says Richardson.

Richardson says the economy, the war and what the Bush administration can deliver to South Dakota will have a huge impact on the race. He says Thune has learned from mistakes in the last campaign and will run a better race this time.

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