Uphill battle

Speaking of difficult tasks, U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada this year took on the job of winning a GOP majority in the U.S. Senate. Ensign, who is not up for reelection himself, is chairing the Republican Senate Campaign Committee for 2007-2008. He has experienced an almost unrelieved diet of bad news—no incumbent Democrats retiring but plenty of Republicans.

Some of the most invincible Republicans in the Senate, such as Virginia’s John Warner and Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, are stepping down. Two GOP incumbents are only appointed incumbents. Then there’s the difficulty of holding onto the seat of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig.

Perhaps the most delicate task Ensign has is trying to come up with a Republican opponent for Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who has slowly emerged from a devastating Dec. 13, 2006, attack of cerebral arteriovenous malformation—bleeding in the brain. There are legitimate questions about whether Johnson’s health is compromising his ability to serve, and while Ensign has not raised them, he has been trying to find an opponent to Johnson, risking accusations of insensitivity. Democrat Tom Daschle of South Dakota has accused Ensign of “classless political attacks” urged people to write to Ensign asking him to “stop the attacks.”

In fact, Ensign has avoided making attacks on Johnson while still trying to find a candidate against him. “We are praying for him to recover his health,” he said, “but we’re still going to go after the seat—and he is very beatable. It’s a very red state, we think we will have a good candidate, and we believe we have a good chance to win this one.”

South Dakota is one of the most Republican states, but so far, only GOP state legislator Joel Dykstra has gotten into the race against Johnson. Johnson’s fellow Democrats, meanwhile, raised more than a million dollars in 2007 for his campaign.