Senator Tom Daschle, right, responds to a question during a debate August 18, 2004, at Dakota Fest in Mitchell, South Dakota. (AP Photo/Doug Dreyer)
Paul Gigot speaks with Kimberley Strassel, Senior Editorial Page Writer for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, who has spent recent days covering the Senate campaign in South Dakota, where Tom Daschle and John Thune are squaring off.
GIGOT: Kim, why do Republicans think they can take out the Senate Minority Leader?
STRASSEL: The race is running head to head, so they've actually have better prospects than they thought they would, but what they're really hoping that this race is going to do is send a message about obstructionism. Tom Daschle represents a state that voted for Bush 60 percent last time, and is headed to do the same thing this time. He has long said that he's one of them, he's a South Dakotan first, he's a party member second.
But when you go to Washington, he is heading a party that is increasingly listening to its very liberal Northeast membership, and they have demanded that he obstruct President Bush's agenda. So he's been playing two games. He's been doing one thing in Washington, another thing back in South Dakota. This is what the race has become about in South Dakota. Republicans are happy that's what it's about, because they're hoping that if he is defeated it sends a message that his obstructionism in Washington doesn't work.
GIGOT: What arguments, what issues are the Republicans using to demonstrate this so-called two Daschles?
STRASSEL: Well, his competitor, John Thune, in particular, has decided to make this race all about Daschle and his positions. What they've done is tried to show his conflicting personalities, what he is in South Dakota and what he is in Washington. Tom Daschle goes to South Dakota, a hunting state, and he says, "I'm all for gun rights just like you," but then he goes to Washington and the NRA gives him an "F" on his voting record. He comes back to South Dakota and he says, "I agree the legal system is a mess," but he blocks every one of President Bush's tort reform issues. He's got a picture of himself hugging President Bush on the floor of Congress -- hugging him -- and yet he says that Bush has failed miserably at diplomacy, and basically forced us to war. South Dakotans are hearing some of this for the first time, these two different viewpoints and it's hurt Mr. Daschle in the polls.
GIGOT: Now he is not taking this lying down, I'm sure. How is he fighting back in this campaign?
STRASSEL: Tom Daschle has been sent many times back to Congress because the of the state's prairie populism. The eastern part of the state, their farmers, rural communities, these are people who are wary of big corporate interests, they're not necessarily averse to government. In fact, they want to know what their politicians are going to bring home for them.
GIGOT: This is a state that did elect George McGovern and James Abourezk, two very populist liberals.
STRASSEL: Yes, exactly. Tom Daschle has already played on this and said "I'm one of you and I bring home the bacon." His problem is that his own obstructionism in Washington has hurt his ability to bring home a lot of programs to South Dakota.
STRASSEL: Well, a good example is ethanol. You know, South Dakota's a state, they've got lots of corn farming.
GIGOT: Corn, corn, corn.
STRASSEL: Corn, corn, corn. Ethanol producers. And Tom Daschle, when he was briefly majority leader two years ago, said I'm going to bring you home the ethanol mandate of all time, just as if we were rolling in ethanol money. But he didn't get it passed before the Republicans took over again. So then he found himself between a rock and South Dakota, and he was supposed to obstruct the Republicans putting through their own energy bill, while at the same time get his ethanol mandate passed. He couldn't do both. In the end, his own democratic party filibustered the energy bill, and he hasn't been able to bring home an ethanol mandate. That's not been good for him in the House.
GIGOT: So the fact that there's been very little, kind of relatively little done in the Congress actually hurts his ability to bring home the bacon in South Dakota.
GIGOT: Kim, any calls about who's likely to win this?
STRASSEL: I don't think I would be that stupid. Or brave.