Daschle takes a 2008 test spin
Tom Daschle, shown here in a file photo, lost his Senate re-election bid in 2004.
When former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) wanted to reconnect with his constituents, he would get behind the wheel of his car and drive South Dakota's back roads. Now, 18 months removed from office, Daschle is getting back into the driver's seat. Except this time he is driving the streets of Manchester, New Hampshire, and Davenport, Iowa.
Daschle is the latest Democrat to start testing the waters for a potential presidential run in 2008.
"I think our country is on the wrong track," Daschle said in an interview with the Grind earlier this week. "It is not living up to the greatness and potential. I don't know if there has been a time when it has been more important to step up ... and to help with the issues that are confronting us."
Daschle is driving around Davenport this morning after conducting a similar "unscheduled driving tour" yesterday in Manchester. No press, no staff, just the former Democratic leader pulling over on the side of the road and talking directly to the people.
It was this time two years ago when Daschle was the number one target of Senate Republicans. He was vilified for stalling and blocking President Bush's legislative agenda and judicial nominations. The phrase "Daschle Democrats" was coined and the word obstructionist became interchangeable with the South Dakota Democrat's name. Republican leaders convinced former Rep. John Thune (R-South Dakota), fresh off of losing to Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) in 2002, to challenge Daschle. In a state that President Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) by 22 percentage points in 2004, Daschle lost to Thune by about 4,500 votes.
After 26 years of serving first in the House and then the Senate, Daschle's Congressional career came to a crashing end. He joined the private sector and a Democratic think tank, but he acknowledged he still has the itch for politics. Daschle said the combination of his service in Congress, including 10 years as a Democratic leader, and the fact that he has a 7-1 record in a "red state" makes him "uniquely qualified" as a candidate.
"I think I could bring some strengths to this race that would be formidable," Daschle said.
Right now, though, he is at a financial disadvantage to other Democrats such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York), Sen. Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Sen. John Kerry (Massachusetts), who have all amassed substantial early war chests. But Daschle said, should he decide to seek the Democratic nomination, he is confident he will have the resources to run an effective campaign.
"I don't want to minimize the challenge of raising funds, and I am confident we would be able to do that," he said. "The network of friends and supporters I have around the country would be more than sufficient to allow me to run a competitive race."
Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and CNN commentator, said she is not surprised that Daschle is exploring a bid, adding that even though he is out of office people should take his candidacy seriously.
"He has great credentials, solid Democratic credentials," Brazile said.
"He can raise money, attract early media attention and recruit much needed staff and activists to fuel his candidacy. He will be one of the leading contenders if he decides to run."
In addition to visiting the early proving grounds, Daschle has remained active on the campaign trail for Democratic candidates. He has donated $340,000 directly to candidates and the party, and has helped raise another $1.2 million for Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates, Daschle political adviser Steve Hildebrand said. Daschle needs to maintain and continue building relationships as the race for the Democratic nomination will be crowded and competitive. Even one of Daschle's long-time friends told the Grind that he is leaning towards supporting former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), who is considering running in 2008.
"A guy like Daschle being on the ticket would be terrific, but I don't think this country is looking at a former or sitting senator for their next leader," said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Daschle said he will use the coming months to determine if a bid is viable, but won't make a decision until after the midterm elections. He once thought about running for the White House before making an 11th hour decision to run for re-election to the Senate. He lost that race and now is thinking about a White House bid again.
"I have always made it a practice never to look back and second guess," Daschle said. "I have got to live with the decisions I have made."
To this day, Republicans such as Sen. George Allen (R-Virginia) boast about their success in defeating Daschle in 2004. Allen, who is seriously considering his own run for the White House, was the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2004.
But Daschle said he has no regrets about how he handled his duties as the Democratic leader.
"I am proud of the fact that we stood up to an administration that is just flat wrong on every issue," he said.
***Democratic bloggers plot strategy in Las Vegas
Once maligned as anti-social, idealistic liberals, the Democratic establishment is embracing the "net roots," a community of online activists who use the Internet to instantaneously voice their opinions.
Tonight, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) addresses the first annual YearlyKos Convention, a gathering of 1,000 bloggers meeting in Las Vegas to talk politics and strategy and politics and politics. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean speaks tomorrow morning. And over the course of the four-day event four possible presidential candidates -- retired Gen. Wesley Clark, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner --will address the gathering.
"Despite this massive effort to discredit us as far left, extremist whackos, it clearly has failed," Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, whose blog Daily Kos inspired the convention, said in an interview with the Grind. "And by their presence, they are giving their vote of confidence for a new generation of political activists."
Moulitsas described the convention that was organized by readers and contributors to Daily Kos as "a perfect example of the people-powered politics that I have been writing about for several years."
The power and reach of bloggers was realized in the 2004 presidential election when Dean utilized the Internet to raise money and whip up support for his presidential campaign. Since then veteran Democrats from Sen. Robert Byrd (West Virginia) to Sen. John Kerry (Massachusetts) have sought to build a relationship with the online community.
Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, said he believes Democrats view the Internet much in the same way Republicans see talk radio.
"It is a way to talk to the base," Todd said. "The base of the Democratic Party is very connected and while it hasn't proven that it is a way to win elections, they have proven it is a way to organize and raise money."
Todd said it also makes sense for Clark, Vilsack and Warner to attend the conference because these three potential candidates are viewed as centrists and need to establish a relationship with these activists.
"In some ways, Kos can do more for a conservative or even a centrist Democrat than he can for a liberal," Todd said.
Ellen Qualls, Warner's spokeswoman, pointed out that the former governor is a successful technology venture capitalist and noted that the online activists' "influence is only expanding.
"I think he has a connection with these activists, because they appreciate that he understands the power of technology, which is how they are organizing," she said.
While political analyst Stuart Rothenberg noted that the bloggers have indeed become "players in Democratic and left wing politics," he said it has come with a price.
"Like talk radio conservatives, the liberal bloggers have polarized our politics, made our political discussions less civil and generally made politics meaner and less smart," said Rothenberg, publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report and a columnist for Roll Call.