Man Without Qualities

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Daschle Descending II

Prior posts have noted that Senator Tom Daschle is in surprisingly deep trouble, in part because he no longer has a position that can effectively deliver federal benefits to South Dakotans. One group of South Dakotans particularly dependent on effective Senate representation is native Americans, who traditionally have strongly favored Democrats in South Dakota. But as a measure of what is happening to Senator Daschle, we have this report sent by a savvy reader:

A major player in Indian politics has endorsed the man running against South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle.

Russell Means, a Lakota Sioux activist and former candidate for governor in New Mexico, announced his support Wednesday for John Thune. The Republican is campaigning throughout the state to defeat Daschle. ...

Means said he hoped his support for Thune would help him work with the Republican Party to change its Indian policy. Thune said he is focusing on drumming up support among the state's American Indian population.

Daschle officials said they are not worried about the endorsement.

"Senator Daschle hopes that during this campaign there is a very vigorous debate over the best way to improve the quality of life in Indian Country," Daschle spokesman Dan Pfeiffer told the Native American Times. "There are very real differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issues-most notable with regard to Indian health care. This is a newfound effort by Republicans to court the Indian vote. It has nothing to do with helping Native Americans, it is a pure mathematical calculation that they need that vote to win."

"John Thune as a congressman worked very closely with tribes in South Dakota on many projects and he has a very clear track record," said Thune spokesman Dick Wadhams. "It is clear that this endorsement from Russell Means has stung Senator Daschle and his campaign, and we would expect them to react they way they did."

The Indian vote has been important for Thune, 43, and was his undoing two years ago when he faced Tim Johnson for the state's other Senate seat. Johnson narrowly won, a victory attributed to his Native American support. There were allegations of ballot box stuffing in that race, charges that were brought up again last month by conservative commentator Robert Novak.

Thune called the allegations "inappropriate."

Means isn't the only prominent American Indian figure to criticize Daschle. Newspaper publisher Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota, is challenging him for the democratic nomination. Giago, 69, said he thinks that the Indian vote in South Dakota is taken for granted.

Can there be any doubt as to the wisdom of Mr. Thune's decision not to go the Gore route to court to challenge the South Dakota Senate election he lost in 2002? Not doing that has allowed Mr. Thune to garner this native American support, and lots of other benefits.

Mr. Gore, on the other hand, ....

POSTSCRIPT: An alert reader points out that there is no reason to conclude from the articles cited above that Russell Means is motivated by a desire to use the Republican Party as a channel to deliver to native Americans the same kind of federal benefits that Democrats such as Senator Daschle might favor. Effective Senate representation does not have to equate with a Senator's ability to bring home more federal pork. Russell Means has in the past identified himself as a variety of Libertarian, and his desire to change Republican and federal policies may be motivated by a desire for a less intrusive and less dependency-generating government.

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