As polls show he is at a real risk to lose the election, South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle has issued an urgent call for American Indians in the state to vote for him. The senator stressed the fact that early voting laws mean anyone can file a ballot between now and election day.
"Voters in Indian Country will once again have the chance to help determine who controls the White House and the United States Senate," Daschle said. "The new early voting offices make participating in this important election easier than ever before."
New early voting offices are now open in Pine Ridge at the Sacred Heart Church Hall and in Kyle at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. The Pine Ridge office is open every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday while the Kyle office is open every Thursday and Friday.
Daschle is embroiled in tight race with Republican John Thune, a former representative, who has made inroads by relentlessly portraying Daschle as a big spending liberal who is out of touch with South Dakota voters.
"You cannot effectively represent your state, the state of South Dakota, at the same time you are having to take your cues and answers to a liberal Democratic caucus that consists of Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. And that's who he has to answer to,” Thune said.
Newspaper reports from South Dakota indicate that the Indian vote, for years something that Daschle could rely on, may be abandoning him.
“A lot of us are taken for granted,” Jesse Taken Alive, a resident of the Standing Rock reservation along the North Dakota border who is reconsidering his support for Daschle, told The Hill. “Now we’re asking these questions: What kind of commitments can you make to us?”
During this summer’s Democratic National Convention in Boston, Lise Balk King, a reporter with the South Dakota-based Native Voice newspaper, said that while reports of Daschle’s waning support are exaggerated, he has alienated some. King believes the dissatisfaction is mainly due to Daschle’s authorship of the Mitigation Act, legislation transferring thousands of acres of Sioux land to the government. Some saw it as betrayal.
“So because of the Mitigation Act there are some tribal people who are very anti- Tom Daschle, but they are the minority as far as we can tell,” King said.
Tim Giago, a Sioux columnist who also is featured in the Native American Times, considered running against Daschle in the Democratic primary.
"Pine Ridge, Shannon County, was proclaimed in 1980 and 1990 by the U.S. Census Bureau, as the single poorest county in the United States of America. Our two state senators, Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, have done little or nothing to bring economic development or jobs to these very depressed areas," Giago told Talon News. "One has to wonder why this is so when we supposedly have two senators working so hard to improve our lives."
The race between Daschle and Thune is being watched at the national level because a Daschle loss could put the Senate into GOP hands.
"This election will have a tremendous impact on everyone in Indian Country," Daschle said. "As a leader in the Senate, I've worked to ensure issues important to Native Americans are on the national agenda, and in the next six years, I'll continue to do everything I can to improve the quality of life for all Native people."