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A D for a D

By Michael Smerconish

Maybe my eggnog has been spiked. Or my fondness for big, colored, gaudy Christmas lights has blinded my sensibilities.

But I am one Republican hoping that in the event South Dakota Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Johnson cannot serve - and I pray that he gets healthy and can fulfill his responsibilities - Governor Mike Rounds puts another Democrat in his stead.

Disability is no way to win control of the entire Senate.

Yes, I know that history is replete with examples situations where partisan advantage has arisen from tragedy. Governor Casey's appointing of Harris Wofford to replace John Heinz after the airplane catastrophe comes immediately to mind. And Governor Rounds himself was faced with the death of a Democratic state senator in 2002 and named a Republican to replace him. I have no problem with either case, or the many others with which I have become familiar. But never before has control of the U.S. Senate hung in the balance in a circumstance like this.

And it may not now, depending upon Senator Johnson's health, the timing of any inability not to serve, and some wrangling between parties. But Governor Rounds and the GOP should serve notice now that no advantage will be taken that tips the balance of power.

When I first articulated my view on my own radio show, and then as a guest host for Bill O'Reilly on the Radio Factor, many in my own party were quick to say that the D's would not hesitate to gain an upper hand if the roles were reversed. And others said that where Governor Rounds just won re-election to a second term with over 60 percent of the vote, and given that his job responsibilities legitimately include naming a successor, his re-election can be viewed as an affirmation of sorts by the voters of South Dakota that they want him do as HE sees fit in such a circumstance.

None of this dissuades me.

It's just not right. Worse, it'd be downright unseemly. A brain bleed is no way to maintain enormous power.

I'll tell you something else that replacing Johnson with a Republican would be - political suicide for the GOP as it looks toward 2008.

On November 7th, the nation spoke. Reasonable minds can quibble as to what exactly it said, but one thing is clear, it was nothing pleasant for GOP. Clearly it had something to do with being out of touch. And from the looks of things, they are about to get worse. On the heels of the election, the Administration took the political cover afforded by the "Baker Commission", rebuked it, and is now soliciting additional political cover to ignore the recommendations.

So we have a party viewed as being out of touch, and a climate where people are fed up with partisanship. They are sick and tired of the black and white divisions that separate the parties and the refusal of elected officials to work with the other.

All of which presents an opportunity. It's an unprecedented chance for the GOP to rise above the fray, and distinguish itself as the stage is set for a presidential showdown that is going to be very difficult to win.

Hey Governor Rounds, issue a press release in this week of Christmas. Wish Senator Johnson well, tell him you can't wait until the day arrives where he will again stand in the well of the Senate saying things about which you can disagree from the Governor's mansion. Then make it crystal clear that if he can't resume his position, and if control of the Senate hangs in the balance, you will honor him by naming a replacement from his own party.

And to all a good night.

Michael Smerconish is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News and the author of Muzzled. He can be heard weekdays 5:30-9 a.m. on 1210/AM in Philadelphia. Contact him via

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