Johnson ready for changing political landscape

U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) had good reason to look calm as he arrived at the polls in his hometown of Vermillion to cast his ballot in Tuesday's general election.

Campaign time for him, should he choose to seek another term in Washington, DC, won't begin in earnest until sometime in 2012.

He still has time to relax a bit.

He admitted, as he prepared to leave the National Guard Armory in Vermillion after voting, that he is concerned that the rancor among members of Congress in both houses seems to have reached an all-time high.

"It seems to me that no party has all of the right ideas," Johnson said. "They each have bad ideas and good ideas, and we should work hard to support any of them that have good ideas."

Some predictable patterns have emerged among his colleagues, and the voters who support them. Some can always be counted on to fully endorse the position of their political parties, he said.

"The thing is that 40 percent of any party is solid; the 20 percent who are 'in-between' is who we have to get to, and that swings from one side to the other, politically," Johnson said. "Sometimes, it's good years for Republicans, and some years it's good for Democrats. And the 20 percent in the middle is who you have to get after."

Political pundits, in recent weeks, have speculated that the Republican Party will have the majority in the U.S. House when the last ballots are counted Tuesday, and that Democrats will maintain control in the U.S. Senate.

"I think the general opinion is that the Republicans will take the lead in the House, and the Senate will see the same (Democratic majority) but with reduced numbers. That is the conventional wisdom, but anything might happen," he said.

Gauging the after-effects of a political election is nothing new to Johnson, who has a vast amount of campaign experience since he first ran and was elected to the South Dakota Legislature while a practicing attorney in Vermillion nearly 30 years ago.

He eventually ran for Congress, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986. Johnson served as South Dakota's congressman for five terms before being elected to the U.S. Senate in November 1996. Johnson has been re-elected twice, in 2002 and again in 2008.

In December 2006, Johnson suffered an intracerebral bleed caused by a congenital arteriovenous malformation. Following surgery and rehabilitation, he returned to work and the campaign trail, and was re-elected to a second Senate term two years ago.

The political landscape in Washington may be about to change, he noted, but he believes he knows how to navigate the new terrain that will greet incumbent Senators in January.

"I'll do my part to do all I can to have a good affect for South Dakota," he said. "I will support the middle, and that's where I think things will get done (in the Senate)."

Before leaving the armory Tuesday, he commented briefly on the hotly contested U.S. House race between incumbent Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, and her challenger, Republican Kristi Noem.

"Although we have only one House member out of 435, they are all important," Johnson said. "As far as I'm concerned personally, it's obvious that Herseth Sandlin should win, but it's going to be close.

"She (Herseth Sandlin) is bi-partisan, and she's in favor of education," the senator said.

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