SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Sen. Tom Daschle, minority leader of the senate was
defeated in his reelection bid by Republican John Thune in what was a tight
race from the start.
Daschle may be out for now, but in his speech to loyal supporters he said
there was still much work to do. To read between the lines of his speech an
indication of a future political move would not be out of the question. "I
will continue to work for the people of South Dakota."
At the end of his speech he said he enjoyed the sunrises and sunsets at the
base of Mount Rushmore and on the Mall in Washington, D.C. "I prefer
sunrises." He did not get into specifics about his future.
"Together I believe there is nothing we can't do.
"I don't want anyone in this room to feel angry or sad. The challenge that
motivated us to do what we wanted to do in elective office is still out
"We absolutely have to find a way to solve the crisis in health care. We
have to strengthen education. We want to create an economy that allows our
young people to stay right here in South Dakota." And in the only mention
of American Indian issues Daschle said, "We have treaty obligations we have
to respect and we have to do a lot more to insure those treaty obligations
He said he would continue to work for the people of South Dakota.
All nine tribal chairman from the state supported Daschle and the election
results from the reservation counties showed American Indian voters were
overwhelmingly in Daschle's camp.
President elect Cecilia Fire Thunder of the Oglala Sioux Tribe said she was
disappointed with Daschle's defeat.
"It really doesn't sit well with me to do all that negative campaigning.
[Thune] won on that. It doesn't fit well with me in the pit of my stomach.
"Where I sit it is difficult to respect someone who uses those kinds of
tactics - I will have to work through this. Tom worked hard for Indian
country," Fire Thunder said.
"If Thune is serious about our concerns then he needs to work three times
as hard as Daschle. The people on Pine Ridge voted in large numbers for
Daschle. [Thune] doesn't need to use it against us, he needs to work to see
what he can do to find out how to gain our trust," she said.
Thune was not available to comment on American Indian issues and his
campaign manager, Dick Wadhams did not return phone messages by press time.
Many of the tribal leaders who supported Daschle were confined to tribal
council meetings or unavailable for comment.
Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said he was
"We as Indians were put on the forefront and well respected by the Senator.
With the change, we will be once again at the end of the line," he said.
A number of reasons for Daschle's defeat were given including; moral
issues, terrorism and the fact that he and his wife bought a home in
Virginia. These play either well or poorly in South Dakota.
But the question of moral values is hard for Frazier to believe.
"We Indians looked at Daschle as having our morals and our values. One of
them is respect. That is one thing he held for his opponent, respect. I am
proud that he had respect, he maintained it through the campaign," Frazier
On the Pine Ridge Reservation a street corner near the polling location was
staffed by many young people who held signs that read "Honk if you voted"
and "Honk for Daschle." The honking continued throughout the day and
sounded like a pep rally for a high school homecoming parade.
The unofficial count statewide gave Thune a majority of 51 to 49 percent of
the vote with only one precinct not reporting. The vote total was Daschle
193,279 and Thune 197,813 a difference of 4,464 votes.
As Frazier alluded, the voters selected Thune on moral values and the war
in Iraq and terrorism. The general feeling was that Thune would support
more of President Bush's agenda than would Daschle. In fact Thune called
Daschle an obstructionist in many of his ads and also in the debates.
Daschle as the minority leader had control over some voting on bills that
came through the Senate.
Thune seldom campaigned on the reservations other than to attend a few pow
wows and fairs. Frazier said Thune came to the Cheyenne River Reservation
twice, once to play in a basketball game, and once to attend the tribal
fair, pow wow and rodeo.
"Thune did tell me when he announced and at the time I felt from our
comments that he was going to put forth an Indian platform - he didn't,"
"It is a sad day not only for Indians and South Dakotans, but across the
United States. They lost a great man. I hope people realized that. We will
feel the effect of losing someone like Daschle," he said.
Thune lost his bid for the senate in 2002 against Democratic Senator Tim
Johnson by 524 votes, the result of a major Get Out the Vote campaign in
Indian country. Accusations of voter fraud and a stolen election resurfaced
during the 2004 campaign. A lawsuit filed by Daschle's camp on the eve of
the election accused the Republican Party of intimidation tactics when
attorneys hired by the GOP wrote down license plate numbers of American
Indian pre-election voters.
Federal District Judge Lawrence Piersol issued a restraining order.
Likewise in the western part of the state on the Pine Ridge Reservation,
GOP officials were ordered by the court to stop videotaping people who