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Updated December 1, 2002 
The Jeffords Switch
On May 24, 2001, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords announced that he was leaving the Republican party and becoming an Independent; when Jeffords' move took effect on June 5, Democrats gained, by the thinnest of margins, a majority in the Senate and Minority Leader Tom Daschle became Majority Leader Tom Daschle. 

The triumph of Jeffords' switch came just one day after a major defeat for Daschle.  On May 23, 2001 the Senate approved by a 62-38 vote, H.R.1836, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, which provided for a $1.35 trillion tax cut.  Daschle was unable to prevent twelve Democratic Senators from supporting the measure.

Daschle's name was often in the news in late 2001, and not only as the Senate Democratic leader or as an obstructionist.  On October 15, 2001 a letter containing anthrax was opened in his office, causing the entire Hart Senate Office building to be shut for three months. 

Bane of Republicans
Daschle entered 2002 as the most prominent Democrat in the land, bane of Republicans, obstructor of progress.  As negotiations over the economic stimulus package stalled in the latter part of 2001, Daschle became a favorite Republican target; for example, Vice President Cheney on the December 9 "Meet the Press," labeled Daschle an "obstructionist."  A number of Republicans sought to cast Daschle's "obstructionism" as evidence of presidential designs.  In a widely publicized January 4, 2002 speech at the Center for National Policy in Washington, DC., Daschle launched a broadside on Republican economic policies.  "They have one unchanging, unyielding solution that they offer for every problem: tax cuts that go disproportionately to the most affluent," he stated. 

Conservative criticism continued and grew; on January 13, 2002 the Club for Growth launched a significant television ad campaign in Daschle's home state of South Dakota.  "[I]n this time of national emergency, one man stands in the way," the announcer proclaimed in "Daschle Deficits."  The 30-second spot concluded, "Tell Tom Daschle to put our jobs ahead of his petty partisanship."  On January 16, conservatives launched a "" website to urge South Dakotans to defeat Daschle in 2004.  On January 23, House Majority Leader Dick Armey called on Daschle to "Free the Daschle 50," fifty bills that had passed the House but were stalled in the Senate.

Daschle had in fact laid out an agenda.  On January 23, 2002, as Congress returned from recess, he outlined his priorities for the Second Session of the 107th Congress.  First, he said, unfinished business from 2001 should be completed, specifically an economic recovery plan, the Farm Bill, and an energy bill.  Daschle set out as his other priorities: long term economic growth including expanding trade by passing a trade promotion authority ("fast track") bill; economic security including a raise in the minimum wage and a Patient's Bill of Rights; homeland security; and election and campaign finance reform.

When a newspaper interview caused increased speculation about a possible presidential run, Daschle issued a statement on February 21:

"Sioux Falls, SD - I have consistently said there are three options for me in the future: running for reelection, retiring, or running for national office.  I have made no decision and will make no decision until after the November 2002 midterm elections.  My priorities continue to be expanding the Senate Majority in 2002 and being the best Senator I can be for the people of South Dakota."
A few days later, on February 24, Daschle received an expected poke from home state Republicans when South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow signed into law HB No. 1116, "An Act to prohibit a person from being on the general election ballot for President or vice-president and another office." 

In summer 2002, Daschle penned a deal to tell the inside story of the Senate during the107th Congress.  He will write the book with Michael D'Orso; it is to be published by Crown Publishers, part of Random House, in late 2003.

Proxy Battle
Daschle's most immediate challenge, however, was to retain or solidify the Democratic majority in the Senate in the 2002 mid-term elections.  The task appeared manageable.  Of 34 seats up in November 2002, only 14 were Democratic, and all of these were held by incumbents seeking re-election.  However, there was no margin for error, and close races developed in half a dozen states.  As it turned out, the closest race was in Daschle's home state of South Dakota.  President Bush had persuaded Rep. John Thune (R) to challenge Sen. Tim Johnson (D) instead of seeking the governorship.  Bush had carried the state with 60 percent of the vote in 2000; he did a couple of fundraisers for Thune and made two visits to the state in the final week.  However, South Dakota is Daschle's home turf.  He keeps in touch with his constituents through annual "unscheduled driving tours" on which he drives across the state without aides or schedule.  During the fall months there were a regular stream of joint Daschle-Johnson announcements.  "U.S. Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Tom Daschle (D-SD) today announced a $1,247,250 grant for the City of Aberdeen..." began a press release from October 3.   "Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson today announced $900,000 in grant funding for the South Dakota Council of Mental Health Centers in Pierre," proclaimed an October 7 release.  When all the votes were counted, the Democrat Johnson eked out a win by a scant 524 votes.  Daschle had won the battle, but he lost the war, as control of the Senate went to the Republicans.

Political Notes: As leader of the Democrats in the Senate,  Sen. Daschle maintained a fairly busy fundraising schedule, doing a total of 36 political fundraising events in 2001.  (After September 11, he did no political fundraisers until November).  The 36 fundraisers included 19 DSCC events, 9 candidate events, 4 DSCC/candidate events, 3 DASHPAC events, and 1 Unity/DNC event.

Strengths and Weaknesses
+ Comes across as low key and unassuming.
+ Patience and a talent for listening.  See Michael Crowley's article, cited below.
+ As a midwesterner, Daschle could fare well in the first contest of 2004, the Iowa caucuses.

- It could be very difficult to serve as leader of the Democrats in the Senate and run for president at the same time.

Speeches and Statements
Transcript of Leadership Press Conference, January 7, 2003.

Statement by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle Announcing His Decision Not to Seek the Presidency in 2004, January 7, 2003.

"Making a Difference: America and the Senate One Year After the Jeffords Switch," National Press Club, Washington, DC, May 22, 2002.

California Democratic Party State Convention, Los Angeles, CA, February 16, 2002.

"America's Economy: Rising to our New Challenges," Center for National Policy, Washington, DC, January 4, 2002.

Bob Jones.  "Mad Daschle." World, October 12, 2002. (cover story) >

Jake Tapper.  "The 100 Yard Daschle."  Talk, September 2001.

Michael Crowley. "Tom Daschle's struggle to save the Dems."  The New Republic, March 26, 2001. 

Copyright © 2001, 2002  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action