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Daschle: 'Grateful for every moment'

Sen.Tom Daschle, right, shakes hands with doorman German Vasquez as he leaves the Senate.
Tom Daschle
John Thune
South Dakota

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Drawing the curtain on a decade as the Senate's Democratic leader and more than a quarter century in Congress, Sen. Tom Daschle bid farewell to his colleagues on the Senate floor Friday, saying he is approaching his future outside of Congress with "great optimism, hope and anticipation."

The South Dakotan said his Senate career "has had its challenges, its triumphs, its disappointments."

"But everything was worth doing, and I'm grateful for every moment," he said. "I have loved these years in the Senate, but I like the dream of the future."

Daschle, 56, who has served as the Senate Democratic leader since 1994, lost his bid for a fourth Senate term on November 2.

He was defeated by Republican John Thune, who painted Daschle as an obstructionist thwarting President Bush's agenda and charged that he was out of touch with his home state constituents.

Daschle didn't address his defeat in his 20-minute farewell address, but he offered a litany of accomplishments made during his years on Congress on behalf of South Dakota and its citizens, as well as reminiscing fondly about his trademark annual car trips through each of the state's 66 counties.

He also told his colleagues that he was "proud of those moments when we found common ground."

"If I could leave this body with one wish, it would be that we never give up that search for common ground," Daschle said. "The politics of common ground will not be found on the far right, or on the far left. That is not where most Americans live. We will only find it on the firm middle ground, based on common sense and shared values."

The senator also offered words of caution about the direction of the country, saying that Americans "are making monumental decisions about what kind of country this will be."

"Will we use our powerful might as a force just for vengeance and protection against those who would destroy us, or will we use it for progress the world around?" he asked.

"Will we recognize that power is not just our arms, but our wisdom, our compassion, our tolerance, our willingness to cooperate, not just with ourselves, but with the whole world?

"Will we honor the uniquely American ideal that we are responsible for passing this country on to a generation in the future that is better, or will we forfeit the promise of the future for the reward of the moment?"

At the conclusion of his remarks, Daschle received a sustained ovation from his fellow senators, as he hugged Democratic colleagues in the aisle.

Daschle, a former Air Force intelligence officer, was first elected to the Senate in 1986, after eight years in the House. He managed to remain popular in South Dakota, despite being a Democrat representing a solidly Republican state, winning re-election easily in 1992 and 1998.

During most of his years as Democratic leader, Daschle's party was in the minority. But he did serve as Senate majority leader from June 2001 until January 2003, after Sen. Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party and caucus with the Democrats as an independent changed Senate control.

Republicans regained the majority again in the 2002 election, and Daschle considered leaving the Senate to run for president in 2004. He eventually decided to forgo a White House bid to seek re-election.

However, his national profile had diminished his popularity in South Dakota, as Senate Democrats under his leadership used filibusters to thwart Bush's judicial nominees and block Republican initiatives. Bush carried South Dakota by 21 points; amid that tide, Thune beat Daschle 51 percent to 49 percent.

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