Johnson squeaks by in S.D.

Published Nov. 7, 2002|Updated Sept. 4, 2005

The Senate race here, a long, expensive, nail-biting affair that put this state squarely in the national spotlight, came to an end on Wednesday morning with Sen. Tim Johnson, the Democratic incumbent, edging his opponent, Rep. John Thune, by a mere 527 votes.

After a night of crushing defeats for Democrats, Johnson's victory offered one bright moment to his friend and South Dakota colleague, Sen. Tom Daschle, the current majority leader. It also handed President Bush, who persuaded Thune, 41, to run for the Senate and energetically campaigned for him, his only true defeat in the 2002 elections. Bush traveled to South Dakota five times in 18 months, while Daschle campaigned vigorously for Johnson, 55, particularly in the week before the election.

The tally was so close _ a margin of less than two-tenths of 1 percentage point _ that Thune can request a statewide recount. He said if there is no evidence of irregularities, he will not contest the results.

In the campaign, voters in South Dakota, unaccustomed to so much national attention, found themselves at the center of a fierce tug-of-war as the president and Daschle each tried to convince them that they held the Senate's balance of power.

That turned out not to be the case; Democrats had already lost control of the Senate by the time the race was decided.

In the end, a near-record turnout, 71 percent, was a result of ferocious get-out-the-vote efforts and the race's national implications. The votes were so evenly divided that both candidates held and then lost their leads in 13 hours of counting.