Daschle says no to chief of staff

Four years ago, Tom Daschle was very interested in formally joining the Obama administration.

Today? The thought of Daschle taking a key role in the White House is being floated, but early Friday, he told me he is not a candidate for the chief of staff job.

“Denis McDonough, who used to work with me; Ron Klain, who also worked with me; and Tom Nides, a good friend, are the men under consideration,” Daschle said in an email from Tokyo, where he is studying high-speed rail for possibly bringing such a system to the northeast in the USA.

“We should know soon,” he said. Some journalists agree with his assessment.

Daschle, who served four terms as a South Dakota congressman (1979-1987) and three as a senator (1987-2005), was President Obama’s initial choice to be secretary of Health and Human Services back in 2008-2009.

But revelations about tax problems and a preference for limos and a driver forced Daschle to drop out. The Aberdeen native with a reputation as a smart, low-key guy who used to drive himself across South Dakota and stop in every county during his tenure in Congress was seen by his critics as a privileged insider.

His life in politics and government seemed at an end, and he told me he no longer followed South Dakota politics closely. He did appear in the state a few times in 2012, speaking at the funerals of Bill Janklow and George McGovern.

But a political comeback seemed possible, at least for a short time. In the past 24 hours, The Hill posted a blog suggesting Daschle, 65, would be an ideal choice to serve as Obama’s latest chief of staff.

Obama nominated his current chief of staff, Jack Lew, to serve as secretary of the treasury on Thursday, as a typical cabinet shakeup takes place at the end of a first term.

“Daschle has enormous credibility, respect and experience throughout the upper strata of American political and business leadership. He is trusted by leading Democrats and has long-term relations of trust with a long list of leading Republicans, which will be essential to achieving major goals in the current political climate in Washington,” Brent Budowsky wrote.

The idea quickly swept across the web, but Daschle was not on board with the plan, according to Maria Recio of Planet Washington.

“Daschle is now a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, a high-powered law firm and his wife Linda is a well-known lobbyist. Ethics rules would restrict her ability to lobby — an apparent deal-killer for him to take the job,” Recio wrote.

Daschle seems happy, making a ton of money, living a life free of the stress he dealt with on a regular basis when he was the Democratic leader in the Senate. He has been mentioned as a possible chief of staff before, and didn’t take it then.

He still lunches with and advises Obama on a regular basis, and since many of his former staffers have worked in this White House, he has influence and contacts. His former chief of staff, Pete Rouse, spent three months as Obama’s chief of staff in 2010-2011, so Daschle could ask him how that worked.

But why would he want to serve as chief of staff? It’s a high-pressure job, and Obama has already plowed through four of them in his first term.

Plus, Daschle once held dreams of the presidency. When he thought of working in the White House, he pictured himself seated in the Oval Office, not serving the person in it.

However, he is still very interested in how things work, or don’t work, in Washington, as he told CNN last year. He shared an interview with his old colleague and sparring partner Trent Lott, the former Republican senator from Mississippi. Which offers a chance to share this piece I wrote five years ago about the two men for my old Montana newspaper.

I doubt Daschle will serve in the White House in any capacity, but he will likely remain an influential voice in the next four years.

When I asked for a final confirmation that he was not interested in the chief of staff’s post, and it was safe to report that, his answer was succinct: “Yes,” he wrote.

Gun rights and wrongs

This time, the stories are saying, it’s different.

This latest massacre in America has some politicians vowing to tighten rules on access to assault rifles, automatic weapons and clips with multiple rounds. The horror of Friday morning in Newtown, Conn., has awakened those who feel the country is too soaked in blood, with far too many guns available to flawed, dangerous people.

Look at last week — two victims killed, followed by the suicide of the shooter, at the Clackamas Town Center in the suddenly ironically named Happy Valley, Ore. That dominated headlines for a few days, before 28 died in Newtown. Add in the 50 rounds fired in a Newport Beach, Calif., mall parking lot, the two Topeka, Kan., police officers shot and killed Monday … the deadly count keeps adding up.

But while those who are concerned about guns promise action, and President Obama said he will do all he can to change things during his emotional speech in Newtown Sunday night, there is sure to be considerable opposition.

The people who oppose restrictions claim the Second Amendment prohibits government restrictions on their firepower. And they also feel safer with guns in their homes, vehicles, and increasingly, strapped to their sides in public.

The old argument has been renewed: Too many guns cause death and destruction vs. guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Will there be a new outcome to this debate? Will Obama and Congress reduce the volume and kind of guns in this land? And if they do, will we be safer?

McGovern, Nixon and the 1992 race that wasn’t

It was 1991, and the American economy was in trouble, and there was war and strife in the Middle East.

In other words, it was much as it is now. George McGovern, out of the Senate for a decade, was mulling one final run for the White House. President George H. W.
Bush was preparing to run for a second term, and his popularity was at an all-time high after the brief first Gulf War, so many prominent Democrats shied away from running.

McGovern, who had sought the presidency in 1968, 1972 (when he was the Democratic candidate), and 1984, was strongly considering one last run.  So it was only natural that when he saw another veteran politician during a flight, he sought some advice.

That person was Richard Nixon, who had defeated McGovern in a landslide in 1972. Both men were World War II veterans, both were in public life for decades, and both maintained an abiding interest in the game after they left the arena.

McGovern spotted Nixon on the flight, and invited him to sit by him. Soon, McGovern and Nixon were side-by-side, discussing the 1992 race. McGovern, then nearing 70, confessed he was strongly considering one more run for the presidency.

George, do you have something to say that no one else is saying? That’s what McGovern recalled Nixon saying to him. Do you want to raise issues and ideas that no one else is, the old Republican fox asked the old Democratic lion. And would people listen?

McGovern thanked him for the advice. He continued to ponder the race before he decided against it. Instead, Bill Clinton, who jump-started his political career by organizing Texas for McGovern in 1972, ran and won.

McGovern did return to public life, as Clinton appointed him representative to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, and in 2000, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

McGovern didn’t forget his old rival, either, attending the funerals of Pat and Richard Nixon. George McGovern and Richard Nixon were not friends, but neither were they bitter enemies, at least not at the end of their lives.

When he told me this story in 2008 during an extended interview at the McGovern Center, McGovern laughed when he said he always wondered what other people on that flight thought when they saw the two of them together.

The upside of fewer ads on TV

It hit me this weekend: We are not being overwhelmed by campaign ads this fall.

President Obama and Mitt Romney are bombarding the airwaves with TV spots in many states with larger populations and where the decision is up for grabs. That’s not the case in South Dakota, which has been consistently Republican since 1968.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will try here. We’re like an easy opponent at a homecoming football game. The decision is being taken for granted. We will go reliably red.

The lack of a contested presidential race in good ol’ S.D. disappoints political junkies and the media, which loves a horse race to root on. But it’s a blessing for the TV-viewing public, which can sit back and enjoy its movies, shows and games without hearing from Barack and Mitt.

We were supposed to get a bit of a break in our congressional race. Democrat Matt Varilek reportedly pulled his ads from the airwaves this week, but I just saw one during the KELO 6 p.m. news Monday night.

Rep. Kristi Noem and the South Dakota Republican Party thought the enemy had surrendered the air to them, so they celebrated for a day or two.

Noem has a new ad on the air and more to come. She has a large edge in money on Varilek, so we won’t be home-free in TV for the closing days of the race. Several times a day, Noem will continue to ride horses, appear with her adorable kids and show frustration with those dang government boneheads in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the ever-earnest Varilek will show up in both a dark suit and tie, looking leader-like, and his open-collared shirt, when he seeks the regular guy look while tossing horseshoes and ducking cattle and their droppings.

We’re not ad-free, but hey, it could be worse. We could be Ohio.

Republicans open larger leads in SD races, says poll

Republicans have significant leads in three races in South Dakota, according to a survey released by a Sioux Falls polling firm Friday.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney leads President Barack Obama 53.9 to 38.7 percent with 7.4 percent undecided, according to a release from Nielson Brothers Polling. Romney’s lead has increased since NBP’s July survey in which he led by 6 percent.

Republicans have carried South Dakota in every presidential race since 1968. In 2008, Republican candidate Sen. John McCain defeated Obama 53-45, with three other candidates taking the remaining 2 percent. South Dakota, as a traditionally Republican state with just three electoral votes, has not been a point of contention for the two major parties, neither of whom has campaigned here.

In the race for South Dakota’s sole House seat, Republican incumbent Kristi Noem opened a nearly 9 percent lead over her Democratic challenger, Matt Varilek. Noem leads 50.8 to 42.0 percent compared to her 47.4 to 45.6 percent advantage in July, according to NBP.

Noem, a freshman from Castlewood, defeated then-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat, 48-46, with third-party candidate B. Thomas Marking garnering 6 percent.

In the race for one of two Public Utilities Commission seats, incumbent Republican Kristie Fiegen now leads Democrat Matt McGovern 47.0 percent to 36.5 percent with 16.5 percent undecided. Libertarian candidate Russ Clarke was not listed as having any support in the survey. In NBP’s July survey, Fiegen led by two points.

NBP did not poll on the other PUC race between incumbent Chris Nelson, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Nick Nemec.

Both Fiegen and Nelson were appointed to the PUC in 2011. Fiegen is seeking a full six-year term in her race with McGovern and Clarke, while Nelson and Nemec are vying for a four-year term.

“Through the national party conventions, South Dakota Republicans widened their leads in the major races,” Paul Nielson, president of Nielson Brothers Polling said. “Republican voters are now supporting their candidates more than the Democrats are supporting theirs. We saw a small swing back toward Democrats during their convention, but overall South Dakota Republican candidates appear to be consolidating their support and have added to their leads.”

Respondents were also asked to evaluate Obama’s job performance. Overall, 42.9 percent approve, with 25.8 percent saying they “strongly approve” and 17.1 percent saying they “somewhat approve.” Of the 57.1 percent who disapprove, 45.0 percent say they “strongly disapprove.”

The July NBP survey showed Obama’s approval rating to be at 45 percent.

The NBP survey shows Noem’s job approval to be 54.7 percent, with 28.6 percent saying they “somewhat approve” and 26.1 percent “strongly approve.” On the other hand, 25.7 percent of respondents say they “strongly disapprove” and 19.7 percent “somewhat disapprove.” NBP did not ask this question in its July poll.

NBP also asked whether respondents supported the Republican or Democratic state Senate candidate in their legislative district and 46.4 percent support the Republican candidate, 33.3 percent support the Democrat, while 20.4 percent remain undecided.

By comparison, in NBP’s July survey, 44.2 percent of likely voters chose the Republican, 34.8 percent chose the Democrat, and 21.1 percent were undecided.

NBP surveyed a random selection of likely South Dakota voters Aug. 29 through Sept. 6. The question on the presidential race drew 512 responses, with a 4.33 percent margin of error. The question on the US House race drew 509 responses, with a 4.34 percent margin of error. The question on the PUC race between Fiegen and McGovern drew 503 responses with a 4.37 percent margin of error.

Nielson Brothers Polling will release more findings from the survey, including questions on Initiated Measure 15 and economic confidence.