“Everyone who has ever met Tim Johnson knows what a great person and a national leader he is,” said Baucus’ top aide, Jim Messina. “True friends help when their friends need it, and Tim needs it.”
Indeed, Johnson could use the financial boost from his allies. As of Dec. 31, Johnson had just $629,000 in the bank — a relatively small sum in a state that easily could tilt to a Republican next cycle.
So far, no one has stepped in to challenge Johnson, but some well-known candidates could emerge, including Republican Gov. Mike Rounds. Rounds is almost a sure bet to run if Johnson opts out of a re-election bid, but the GOP governor’s candidacy is less clear if Johnson enters the race. On the Democratic side, Rep. Stephanie Herseth is a likely and formidable candidate if Johnson decides to sit it out.
Regardless, Democratic Senators clearly don’t want to take any chances, especially as they look to increase their narrow 51-49 seat hold on the Senate in 2008. In addition to the upcoming events hosted by Conrad, Reid, Schumer and Baucus, Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Edward Kennedy (Mass.) also are putting together Johnson fundraisers.
“We are putting our full support behind Senator Tim Johnson and are urging senators and others to support his reelection bid,” Schumer said in a statement.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Reid, said his boss has made it clear he will do whatever is necessary to help Johnson as he recovers. “Everyone is extremely pleased with the fact that Sen. Johnson is progressing so well, and while he’s still away they are happy to do everything possible to make sure he can run a vigorous campaign when he returns.”
K Street Democrats said they will rally to the cause. “I think there is a strong level of support for Sen. Johnson, and people respect and appreciate his colleagues’ efforts to be helpful,” said Bruce Andrews, a Democratic lobbyist with Quinn Gillespie & Associates.
Paul Equale, a Democratic consultant, said he will attend the Conrad event that will kick off the series of fundraisers. “There is a vast wellspring of affection for Tim Johnson in the Washington community,” he said.