Thune Won’t Run for Janklow’s Seat, Remains Mum on Daschle Challenge

Posted December 16, 2003 at 12:48pm

Former South Dakota Rep. John Thune (R) took himself out of consideration for the special election to fill the seat of Rep. Bill Janklow (R) today but left the door open for a potential race against Sen. Tom Daschle (D) in 2004.

“Due to the extraordinary situation we find the state in today, with the upcoming special election, I feel it is important to advise the Central Committee that I will not be seeking the party’s nomination for the June special election,” Thune wrote Thursday to state Republican Party Chairman Randy Frederick.

Thune is expected to make an announcement on the Senate race early next year, and his choice to opt out of the House race should not be read as a leading indicator of his interest in a statewide race, according to an informed Republican.

Thune’s decision gives House Democrats a boost of momentum in the June 1 special election. Stephanie Herseth has been running on the Democratic side for more than a month, and even Republicans acknowledge that she currently leads all of their potential candidates.

Herseth ran a surprisingly strong race against Janklow in 2002 although the former governor refused to attack her at all. Janklow won 54 percent to 46 percent. After his Dec. 8 conviction of second-degree manslaughter for his role in an Aug. 16 car accident, he announced he will resign his seat.

With Thune out, several Republicans are expected to enter the race. State Sen. Larry Diedrich ran in 2002 but dropped out of the race when Janklow entered. Diedrich also stepped aside for Thune in 1996 — when the seat was last open — and is not expected to do so again.

Larry Russell, a former aide to Thune and staffer at the state party, has also been organizing for the race, speaking with executive committee party members who will select the special election nominee.

Former state Rep. Barb Everist is also interested in running on the GOP side; her gender and personal wealth make her an attractive candidate to take on Herseth, according to some GOPers.

Though they admit Herseth begins the special election race ahead, Republicans express confidence that the state’s GOP leanings and Herseth’s alleged liberalism will make this race extremely competitive.

Although the House picture is coming into focus, Thune offered no guidance on whether he will ultimately challenge Daschle.

Daschle’s campaign is running full speed as Thune ponders. The South Dakota Senator is expected to end the year with $4 million in the bank, and the most recent independent poll showed him with a 6-point advantage over Thune.

Thune lost to Sen. Tim Johnson (D) by 524 votes in 2002. Prior to that he served three terms in the House.