Just over a year ago, Mike Rounds told me he felt Tim Johnson, a Democratic senator, was a friend and a good man whom he had worked well with over the years.
Johnson spoke highly of Rounds as the Republican governor prepared to leave office at the end of 2010. Job well done, he said.
Such nice South Dakotans, working well together, crossing party lines for the good of the state, yadda, yadda yadda …
But now these two highly successful South Dakota politicians may butt heads in 2014. We’ll see how much buddy-buddy talk is exchanged then.
When Johnson suffered a severe brain bleed on Dec. 13, 2006, there was a great deal of speculation that Johnson might die or have to step down and Rounds, who was about to start his second term as governor, would have to name a replacement.
But the governor said he would have none of it. When I spoke with Rounds at the end of 2010, he said he ordered his staff not to even mention the possibility of replacing Johnson.
Johnson recovered, returned to the Senate and easily won a third term in 2008. Poor Joel Dykstra couldn’t attack Johnson without looking bad and didn’t garner much money or support. It was a non-contest.
Now Johnson again faces the question: Will he run for the Senate again? If he does, he may find Rounds waiting for him on Election Day.
The former governor told the Rapid City Journal’s Kevin Woster that he was seriously looking at a run for the Senate in 2014. I offered a historic look at these two political powerhouses in Monday’s Daily Republic.
Back in 2010, as he reviewed his career, Rounds told me he almost ran against Johnson in 2002. At the time, it appeared John Thune would run for governor and Rounds, an ambitious young state senator, set his sights on the U.S. Senate.
But Thune was persuaded by then-VP Dick Cheney and others to run for the Senate and Rounds, in an amazing contest, won a three-way GOP primary and wound up as governor.
Will Rounds run for the Senate this time? He may have a lot of company.
Will Kristi Noem run for the Senate as well, especially if she wins a second term in the House this year and is contemplating a move up in class?
Of course, Johnson, now 65, after more than 30 years in elective office and a quarter century in Washington, D.C., may decide to retire. He is still deeply impacted by the brain bleed, which left his speech slowed and slurred and his body greatly weakened.
While Johnson and his staff say he is completely capable of serving in the Senate, and he appears still quick-witted and on top of things. he may decide Rounds is a very formidable opponent at this stage of his life and decide to call it a career.
He also might want to clear the way for his son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, who is widely seen as a future senator, congressman, governor — something. And Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who bowed out of the 2012 election recently, may want to run for the Senate as well.
But if Mike and Tim end up on the same ballot for the same office, it would be great contest to observe. Neither man has ever lost a race for office and both are rather proud of that fact.
If Johnson wins, he would become the most successful politician in South Dakota history, with five terms in the House and four in the Senate.
If Rounds would run and win, he would follow in the footsteps of the man he calls his role model, Peter Norbeck, who served in the Senate after two terms as governor.
Political observers have been saying for months that 2014 will be a fascinating year in South Dakota politics. Rounds’ announcement added fuel to that fire.
Tim, you’re up. Any more news for us?