Recount ahead? Johnson holds off Thune by tiny margin

Recount ahead? Johnson holds off Thune by tiny margin Sen. Tim Johnson (right), his daughter Kelsey and wife Barbara chat with election officials at the National Guard Armory in Vermillion before voting Tuesday. Johnson was re-elected to the U.S. Senate by a slim margin. by David Lias Vermillion's Tim Johnson won re-election over John Thune in one of the tightest political races for the U.S. Senate in South Dakota history.

Unofficial results tabulated Wednesday morning put Johnson over the top. With all 844 of South Dakota's precincts reporting, Johnson had 167,481 votes, or 50 percent, to Thune's 166,954 votes or 49 percent.

Libertarian candidate Kurt Evans received 3,071, even though he had pulled out of the race three weeks ago.

The final margin was within the limit of 0.25 percent that gives the loser the right to a recount.

South Dakota will certify its election results on Nov. 12, said Secretary of State-elect Chris Nelson. A recount would be held on Nov. 25 if any losing candidates request one.

Thune noted Wednesday afternoon that he would await the results of the canvassing of election results to decide whether to seek a recount.

Johnson technically may have won Tuesday's contest, but the possibility of a recount means there is no closure to one of the longest, most expensive, and at times, bitter campaigns ever held in the state.

Johnson held an early lead Tuesday, but as results from West River counties began to trickle in, Thune whittled away at that margin, slipping ahead shortly after midnight.

Thune held onto the lead most of early Wednesday morning. Johnson regained the lead from four Shannon County precincts that were not counted until just after 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Johnson spoke for about 10 minutes Wednesday morning at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. His remarks were carried live on CNN for national observers who had waited all night for the final outcome.

"Last night was absolutely a long evening, a long campaign," he said, adding that he would honor Thune's request for a recount if one is made.

Johnson said he had not spoken to Thune. "I'm sure he is thinking through his options at this point."

Johnson pledged to work with members of both parties, including Republican Gov. Bill Janklow, who won the state's lone U.S. House seat, and governor-elect Mike Rounds.

"I know that all of us working together � Congressman Janklow, Governor Rounds, Senator Daschle and myself � we can bridge the ground between political parties," he said. "That's what I am committed to doing."

He offered his thanks to numerous supporters and also Thune, his family, staff and volunteers.

In a reference to allegations of voter fraud over registrations and absentee ballot requests that have been under investigation for almost a month, Johnson thanked Attorney General Mark Barnett and Secretary of State Joyce Hazeltine for an an election that he said was run "extraordinarily well."

He also praised South Dakotans for a record-high turnout and thanked Native Americans for their crucial support.

Thune released this statement to media throughout South Dakota early Wednesday afternoon:

"After a long night and a long morning, the preliminary results of last night's election show Sen. Tim Johnson with a 528 vote advantage. The next step in the process is the official canvass of the election results. A canvass is done after

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each election, and the results will be released as soon as that process is finished. Essentially, the canvass is our election system's process for checking everyone's math.

"If there is a change in the numbers or evidence of irregularities after the official election canvass," he said, "I will look at pursuing the next step in the process, which is a formal recount.

"However, I do not wish to put the people of South Dakota through this process unless it is absolutely necessary. Therefore, if there is no change in the vote totals or any irregularities after the official canvass, we will pursue no further action and the results will stand.

"I called Sen. Johnson this morning to congratulate him on today's results. I'd like to thank my supporters and all those who've worked so hard on my behalf over the course of the last year. No one would be happier than I to see those numbers change as the process continues." Thune said. "However, if the numbers stand, I am prepared to accept the outcome and know that my supporters and all those who have stood with me during this process will accept the outcome as well."

Thune, who political outsiders believed likely was set to run for governor in 2002, was recruited by President Bush to seek Johnson's Senate seat instead.

Bush visited South Dakota four times this year, twice in the campaign's last week, to boost Thune's chances. Negative television ads started more than a year before Election Day and flooded the airwaves for most of the campaign.

Bush may not have been able to persuade enough South Dakotans to vote for Thune, but he was effective in helping the U.S. Senate campaigns of other Republicans across the country.

Even without Thune in the Senate, South Dakota's Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, will have to surrender his leadership role to Republican Sen. Trent Lott after the GOP finished the mid-term elections with a gain of two seats.

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