Christianity Today's coverage of this year's election includes profiles of John Kerry and George W. Bush. For the rest of this week, we will highlight other campaigns and issues to be decided this election season.
Judging by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's exhaustive August tour through each of South Dakota's 66 counties, you'd think he was fearful about re-election. But for Daschle, it's an annual event. He drives solo through prairies, tiny towns, and Indian reservations every summer. This time, however, Daschle is in the fight of his political life, partly because conservative Christians in South Dakota are newly galvanized against him.
Polls currently show Daschle slightly ahead of former U.S. Rep. John Thune, a 1983 graduate of Biola University who challenged Sen. Tim Johnson in 2002, losing by only 524 votes. Defeat of Daschle would not only be a symbolic loss for Democrats, but it would also deal a near-fatal blow to their attempt to regain control of the closely divided Senate.
The senator's supporters promote his ability to deliver federal dollars for local projects. His critics claim Daschle's party obligations prevent him from heeding South Dakota's conservative majority on matters like abortion and the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). Thune told CT, "He has come back here for 26 years now and said one thing in South Dakota and something else in Washington. Nobody holds him accountable. He continues to portray himself here as pro-life."
The abortion issue gained local traction this year when the South Dakota legislature considered mounting a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. "That was the first mainstream, serious debate we've had in this state about what we ought to do [about abortion]. But you didn't necessarily hear about it in churches," said Greg Belfrage, host of an afternoon drive-time radio show in Sioux Falls. "The churches here pass up a lot of opportunities to connect with people on real-life issues."
That may be changing. Bishop Robert Carlson, head of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, recently told Catholics, "You cannot vote for a politician who is pro-abortion, when you have a choice, and remain a Catholic in good standing."
Daschle said in a written statement to CT, "My record reflects the principles embodied by Catholic teachings and the church's legislative positions far more often than not. I am opposed to abortion. We can make meaningful progress in the effort to prevent abortion. That is my goal." Daschle voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, reversing earlier votes against the ban during the Clinton administration.
On the Federal Marriage Amendment, Daschle's vote against it has energized evangelicals. "It's just electric around here. People are really engaged," said James Petersen, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Sioux Falls. Thune's first paid advertisement criticized Daschle's role in defeating the FMA. This small-state race will be a big indicator of whether the FMA resonates with voters in November.
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Tom Daschle's Senate and campaign websites offer more information on the senator.
More information about John Thune is available from his campaign website.
Other campaigns and election issues Christianity Today has covered this week include:
California's Prop. 71 Stem-Cell Scam | Supporters of cloning embryos for research have $11 million to convince state voters. (Sept. 29, 2004)
It's Not About Stem Cells | Why we must clarify the debate over harvesting embryos. (Sept. 29, 2004)
Wooing the Faithful | President Bush needs evangelicals more than ever, but it's unclear how badly they want him for another four years. (Sept. 28, 2004)
John Kerry's Open Mind | The candidate has roots in liberal Catholicism, establishment Protestantism, and secular idealism. (Sept. 27, 2004)
Not Far from the Brahmin Tree | Kerry's morals have been shaped by an old Protestant establishment. (Sept. 27, 2004)
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