Is Tim Johnson sending out hints that he will not seek a fourth term?
That’s how the South Dakota Republican Party sees it.
Johnson has said he will announce this spring if he will seek reelection. He has never lost a race for the Legislature, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, making him the most successful politician in South Dakota history.
That’s one reason why the GOP would love to see him head for the clubhouse instead of trying for another six-year term. Former Gov. Mike Rounds, who is also unbeaten in his bids for office, is running for the Republican nomination.
Rep. Kristi Noem, another politician with an unblemished record, told me last week she is still unsure if she will run for a third term in the House in 2014, or if she will seek to step up in class to the Senate by challenging Rounds in the Republican primary.
If Johnson does retire, and his health has been a concern and may be a political liability, his son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, may be a replacement. Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who has relocated to Sioux Falls after a year spent as a Washington, D.C. lawyer, is also a possible Democratic candidate, as is Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether.
Everyone is waiting for TJ to let us know if he will try to match Karl Mundt and win a fourth term in the Senate. The so-called “Curse of Karl” was cited in the losses of three-termers George McGovern, Larry Pressler and Tom Daschle.
Last week, the SD GOP issued a press release noting that a USA Today story claimed Johnson had voted with President Obama 99 percent of the time. It was a “big story,” GOP Executive Director Tony Post said, the biggest and bestest story in South Dakota!
It would “dominate” the new cycle, he said. Um, not so much. But they’re still trying, and you can’t blame them. That’s their job.
Today, the Republicans are sharing a National Journal story that claims that Johnson’s failure to sign a bill endorsing the Keystone XL pipeline is a tip off that he will not run next year.
“Tim Johnson of South Dakota was the lone Democratic senator from a conservative state facing reelection in 2014 not to sign a bipartisan letter calling on President Obama to green-light the Keystone XL pipeline,” Michael Catalini wrote. “It’s a signal that, combined with recent statements, he’s less attuned to his own reelection and may be considering retirement.
“Johnson is one of seven Democratic senators from a state Mitt Romney won in 2012, a factor that makes him politically vulnerable,” according to The National Journal.
We received a link to the story from a Republican insider, and I am sure other SD journalists did as well. The GOP’s most dependable online outlet, Pat Power’s Dakota War College, quickly posted it.
Meanwhile, Johnson continues to go about his business. He released a statement Thursday praising the passage of a new debt limit act, and promising to keep working on the issue.
“I am relieved that we have avoided a repeat of the political brinksmanship that we saw in 2011,” he said. “That foolish game of chicken sent the stock market plummeting and led one credit rating agency to downgrade our nation’s credit rating.
“Today’s vote does not authorize any new spending. It merely means that our country will pay the bills that have already been incurred,” Johnson said. “I would have preferred a longer-term extension that would have provided greater stability to our economy.”
Is Johnson done? No one will know for sure until he gives the word.
Does the South Dakota Republican Party hope he bows out? That seems obvious.