(CNSNews.com) - A recent South Dakota law restricting candidates from that state from simultaneously running for more than one office was "barely even noticed" by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who's still leaving open the option of seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.
For now, a spokesman for the senator said Daschle is concentrating on gaining Democratic seats in the Senate during the November election and "being a good senator from South Dakota."
"There are three options open to him: running for reelection, retiring or running for the presidency," explained Jay Carson, Daschle's press secretary. Daschle's name has surfaced as one who might have his eyes on the White House, but Carson said at this point, each option is "equally weighted."
Carson said the new election law in South Dakota, passed early this year, would not be a roadblock for Daschle, who "is not really paying attention to little laws like that one that passed."
The "little law," which went into effect July 1, effectively forces Daschle to commit himself to either the Senate or the White House, barring him from the privilege enjoyed by other senators contemplating a presidential run: simultaneously seeking both reelection in the Senate and the presidential nomination.
"Would the law discourage him from running? Not really, because I don't think that he had planned to run for both anyway," commented political analyst Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
The current pool of potential Democratic presidential hopefuls is heavily weighted with members of Congress, including Sens. John Edwards (N.C.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), John Kerry (Mass.), Joe Biden (Del.), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Tom Daschle (S.D.), and Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.).
Of those up for reelection in 2004 - Daschle, Edwards, and Gephardt - only Daschle is prohibited by state law from seeking reelection and the presidency.
"My guess is his most likely choice is running for the Senate again," speculated Sabato. "The next most likely may very well be to retire. The least likely may be a presidential campaign."
In spite of Daschle's insistence that the South Dakota law is not a problem for him, state Rep. Matt McCaulley, the bill's primary sponsor and a Republican, said "Democrats were alleging [the bill] was a cheap shot at Tom Daschle," and opposed the bill for partisan reasons.
McCaulley maintains that the bill was not aimed at Daschle, but rather was designed to close a loophole in a 1939 statute, which prohibited any person from seeking more than one office. But under the old law, the presidential election was exempt.
"Discussion of Senator Daschle running for president brought to light this loophole in the law," he said, pointing out that the law isn't partisan because it would affect both parties.
"We just tweaked the existing statute that was on the books," McCaulley explained. "The legislature decided that there shouldn't be exceptions to the rule."
Notwithstanding the strong partisan disagreement over the law's intention, South Dakota Republican Gov. William Janklow - a personal friend of Daschle - supported the measure and signed it into law in February.
Meanwhile, Daschle himself never contacted McCaulley or, as far as McCaulley is aware, any other member of the state legislature concerning the bill, and the senator is scarcely acknowledging its existence.
According to Carson, Daschle is "strongly focused on doing what he needs to do back here in Washington and giving back to the state as much as he can."
But for Sabato, the Senate majority leader's succinct disclosures still leave room for conjecture, even if a run for the White House is the least likely option at this time.
"That's my sense of it and having discussed it with a number of people in South Dakota, I think that's the way they view it as well," said Sabato.
E-mail a news tip to Jessica Cantelon.
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