Republicans now want rez voters

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VERMILLION, S.D. - Republicans in South Dakota are expressing hopes of attracting American Indian voters, the Associated Press reported with a straight face in late December, even though the party's state and national operatives launched a campaign against "voting fraud" on reservations that many Democrats charged was an attempt to discourage Indian turn-out, and some of the Republican charges of fraud turned out themselves to be false.

In spite of it all, South Dakota Republican Party Chairman Joel Rosenthal said there is no reason for GOP candidates not to win votes from Indian country, suggesting that the party's stance on less government could appeal to tribal communities' values for self-rule.

"I think that the alternatives the Republican party offer could promote change," Rosenthal said. "The Republican Party probably needs to be more aggressive in explaining our philosophy in why less reliance on government is better."

The Indian vote is a focus of attention following the November election where it was credited with helping incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson fend off a challenge by Republican John Thune. Indians traditionally vote for Democrats, but with the 2004 election on the horizon, neither party is taking that support for granted.

Turnout of Indian voters in November was 20 percent above average, the Secretary of State office said. And an intensive voter registration drive coordinated by tribal groups and the Democratic Party is credited for the increase.

And with buzz now growing around the 2004 election, another big push to register Indians could happen again, which historically means more votes for Democrats, political observers said.

Recent reports have said that some tribes with casino operations have given more campaign donations to Republicans, said Russ Lehman of the Olympia, Wash.-based First Americans Education Project.

(Staff with Associated Press reports.)