South Dakota intrique

Robert Novak

11/23/2002 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- If Republican Rep. John Thune thought declining to contest his narrow loss to Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson in South Dakota would help a second run for the Senate in 2004, he was disabused by Republican Gov. Bill Janklow. According to South Dakota sources, Thune was told not to back out of a recount solely because of ambitions for Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's seat in 2004. Janklow, who on Nov. 5 was elected to the state's lone U.S. House seat, indicated he himself plans to seek the Senate race. Speculation has it that Daschle may leave the Senate, whether or not he runs for president in 2004. The leading Democratic prospect to succeed him would be Stephanie Herseth, a rookie candidate who ran a spirited but losing contest for Congress against Janklow. NEW HAMPSHIRE INTRIGUE Speculation in New Hampshire that Republican Sen. Judd Gregg may be named to President Bush's Cabinet raises the possibility of quick comeback by Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen in search of the Senate seat that eluded her this year. Gregg, who currently is New Hampshire's most popular political figure, is believed to be interested in either the Treasury or Education portfolio. His departure would virtually guaranee a 2004 candidacy by Shaheen, who lost a relatively close contest Nov. 5 to Republican Rep. John E. Sununu. If Gregg does resign from the Senate, Gov.-elect Craig Benson may appoint former Gov. Steve Merrill to replace him until the primary. Merrill, who last ran for office in 1994, endorsed Benson in the hard-fought primary for governor and is helping his transition team. AN INDEPENDENT'S VOTE Aggressive lobbying of independent Senator-for-a-week Dean Barkley of Minnesota may have saved Congress from a December session to pass President Bush's homeland security bill. Barkley, appointed by independent Gov. Jesse Ventura to fill temporarily the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone's seat, was lobbied by White House aides -- including Chief of Staff Andrew Card. On CNN's "Crossfire" the weekend before the vote, Barkley said, "I'm not very happy with" House Republican pro-business amendments to the bill. He talked about returning to Minnesota for "some heavy thinking" and to keep "my phone off the hook so Andy Card can't find me this weekend." After the federal government gave Minnesota a welfare waiver, Barkley voted with the president (a decision, he says, was made prior to his vote). Had he gone the other way, the Senate's key homeland security vote might have been lost and the lame-duck Congress forced to reconvene after Thanksgiving. THE NEW WHIP Sen. Mitch McConnell, the new Senate Republican whip, will model himself on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay rather than his predecessor, Sen. Don Nickles. McConnell is expected to copy DeLay's techniques in "whipping" Republican votes, particularly on Bush administration measures. Nickles concentrated on policy, disdaining the title of "whip" and preferring "assistant majority leader." A footnote: Under self-imposed Republican term limits, Nickles could not seek another term as whip but will become Senate Budget Committee chairman. He replaces Sen. Pete Domenici, the GOP's longtime Budget leader who now will head the Energy Committee. Nickles is tighter on spending and more expansive on tax cuts than Domenici. REVIVING OTTO REICH President Bush's nomination of Otto Reich as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, blocked by Senate Democrats, will enjoy rapid progress in the newly Republican Senate. Rumors circulated on Capitol Hill that Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, Foreign Relations Committee chairman next year, was no admirer of Reich. In fact, Lugar is committed to holding hearings on the nomination and moving it to the Senate floor. Reich, a Cuban-American who was U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, earned the enmity of Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd because of his Reagan administration role supporting Nicaragua's Contra guerrillas. Dodd, chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, refused to hold hearings. Reich now serves under a recess appointment that lapses at the end of this year.