SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A longtime South Dakota politician shared his story and spoke about how close he came to running for President of the United States. 

In a 48-minute podcast conversation with Zac McCrary, former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle spoke about his upbringing in Aberdeen, how he became involved in politics, what his time as Senate Majority Leader was like, how close he was to running for president and why people should visit South Dakota. 

McCrary, a longtime Democratic pollster, conducted the interview with Daschle on his podcast called “Pro Politics Podcast.” McCrary asked Daschle, who was the Democratic leader in the Senate at the time, how close he came to running for president in 2004. 

Daschle said he was “very close” and had plans to announce an exploration committee for a presidential run in South Dakota. He said conversations with Senate colleagues urging him to wait and run for Senate again ended up swaying his decision. 

“They argued that we wouldn’t win South Dakota, in their view, if I wasn’t going to seek re-election,” Daschle said. “I was young enough to think maybe the best scenario was to win back the majority in 2004 and then run for president in 2008.” 

Daschle said he went back-and-forth on whether to try for president or run for the Senate again. He said he would have felt badly if he gave up on the fight to try and win the majority back in the U.S. Senate.  

In the 2004 Senate race in South Dakota, Daschle lost to Republican John Thune by 4,508 votes (50.58% to 49.42%). Thune, now serving as the No. 2 Senate Republican, is seeking a fourth term in November. 

On Monday, South Dakota State announced ABC News Chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl will speak as part of the Daschle Dialogues in Brookings.     

Daschle on South Dakota as a red state 

McCrary asked Daschle about South Dakota’s “progressive tradition” and added his comment tradition doesn’t feel connected to the present day. 

“Unfortunately, there’s not much sign of progressivism today in South Dakota,” Daschle said. “It’s gone from what I’d describe as fairly purple to bright red. It has popualisit traditions going back to Franklin Roosevelt.”   

Daschle said George McGovern, who is the only South Dakotan to be a presidential nominee, was the example of how a populaist notion created a progressive environment. 

“I think it goes all the way back to the 1930s and 40s when we really needed the help,” Daschle said.

McCrary brought up how Daschle won 50-50 races for the U.S. House and Dachle’s first U.S. Senate race in 1986. In 1986, Daschle beat James Abdnor, who beat McGovern for the Senate seat in 1980.   

Daschle said a lot of work helped him win those close elections. 

“In those days, that personal attention transcended political definition,” Daschle said about meeting with people face-to-face. “People really did vote for the person. It was still a Republican state. We had a lot of Republicans who were willing to vote for the person they perceived to be a person they could identify with.”   

Daschle said he had the time to work at overcoming voter registration shortfalls to persuade independent and Republican voters to vote for him. 

“Some of those races were pretty close,” Daschle said. “At the end of the day, we were successful in part because we just outworked out opponents.” 

Daschle on time after serving in the Senate    

McCrary brought up Daschle’s Chief of Staff Pete Rouse, who joined then-Senator Barack Obama’s staff after Daschle lost. Daschle said Rouse had one of the best minds and great political instincts. 

“Most of my staff went to work for him,” Daschle said about Obama. “We became good friends. We spent a good amount of time talking about healthcare during his presidential campaign.” 

Obama named Daschle as his Health and Human Services Secretary but when news that Daschle failed to pay $128,000 in taxes came out, Daschle withdrew his nomination. 

Daschle said many Obama’s advisors at the time argued Obama shouldn’t touch healthcare because of the 2008 economic crisis. Obama got the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. 

Daschle works for The Daschle Group, a public policy advisory group. He said his son, Nathan, serves as COO and does most of the day-to-day work.   

Daschle on visiting South Dakota

To end the interview, McCrary asked Daschle to pitch why people should visit South Dakota. 

“It’s a stunning state,” Daschle said. “South Dakota is really two states in one – east and west. The Missouri River splits it right down the middle. In the eastern side, it’s a lot like Minnesota and Iowa. Rolling prairie with very rich agricultural land. Sioux Falls is one of the fastest growing cities in the country.” 

Daschle pointed out how the Black Hills are the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains. He said the Black Hills gets millions of tourists each year, but the state is always looking for more.   

“Everybody who has been to Sioux Falls comments to me how surprised they were at what a beautiful city it is,” Daschle said. “As you go west, the Missouri River is a stunningly beautiful place.”