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Frist’s Travels Won’t Include Return to S.D.

Facing a packed campaign schedule up to Election Day, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has chosen not to return to South Dakota to campaign against Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D).

In the next week alone Frist plans to hit five states on behalf of the Bush-Cheney ticket and Senate candidates, kick-starting a three-week run of stumping and fundraising. But Frist said Wednesday that he has no plans to campaign on behalf of the GOP’s highest-profile Senate candidate this cycle, former Rep. John Thune, whose campaign against Daschle has become symbolically the most important Congressional race for Republicans this year.

Citing what he considers to be Thune’s strong campaign and his ability to give a lift to other candidates facing more of an uphill climb, Frist said he wanted his efforts to come in places where he can at least provide a small bump in support.

“I want to go to states where I can … help,” he said, adding that in South Dakota, “I’m not sure what I would add.”

Frist, however, remains engaged in the South Dakota race. He traveled to the state in May and raised close to $500,000 for the challenger, according to one Thune estimate. Some GOP aides and strategists suggested that a return trip would be a waste of time because the national media would play into the storyline of Frist taking the unusual step of again campaigning against his Democratic counterpart, something that Senate historians cannot recall happening in the modern political era.

A second trip would only further infuriate Daschle’s Democratic allies, who complained last spring that Frist had broken Senatorial protocol, and it’s unclear how much, if any, boost he’d give to Thune in the local media.

Thune’s campaign said that Frist had already dedicated an enormous amount of political resources to the race and that no second trip was necessary, noting more than $200,000 in bundled donations from Frist supporters, a fundraising letter on Thune’s behalf and additional events he hosted for the challenger in Washington.

“It makes all the sense in the world that he would focus his attention on other races,” said Dick Wadhams, Thune’s campaign manager. “Senator Frist has already made the point that needed to be made in South Dakota. Certainly he has made his mark here.”

While some outside surrogates may make stops in South Dakota for Thune, Wadhams suggested the overwhelming focus of the campaign’s final three weeks would be on Daschle. “It’s Thune versus Daschle in the stretch here,” he said.

Daschle’s camp suggested that Frist realized his presence would only rev up Democrats across the country to get behind the Minority Leader. “No single event further galvanized support for Senator Daschle than did Senator Frist’s trip to South Dakota,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Daschle’s spokesman.

After that trip, the Daschle campaign sent out an e-mail to supporters citing a Roll Call report that, at that point, Frist’s supporters had bundled $156,000 to Thune’s campaign. Written by political consultant James Carville, the e-mail was dubbed the “James Carville Challenge,” an attempt to meet the take from Frist’s donors.

Pfeiffer said that in three days the piece brought in $150,000. Frist’s work for Thune has been an “incredibly successful fundraising tool,” Pfeiffer said.

With much of President Bush’s agenda locked down in the Senate by Democratic filibusters and other delaying tactics, chamber Republicans have made ousting Daschle their top priority. Considering Daschle the prime architect of the alleged obstruction of Bush priorities, Republicans believe knocking off Daschle would have a devastating impact on Democratic attempts to thwart their agenda if Bush wins re-election and they maintain control of the Senate.

At a press conference during the Republican National Convention in New York, Sen. George Allen (Va.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said defeating Daschle would be akin to winning “three seats.”

While Frist isn’t expected to be in South Dakota, he’ll hardly be sitting still.

“I will be campaigning around the country from next Tuesday on,” he said.

That day he will be headlining a Republican National Committee “Victory Party” event in Tennessee to raise money for the RNC’s Bush-Cheney support. On Wednesday he’ll again be working on behalf of Bush’s re-election, first in the battleground state of Ohio focusing on events highlighting the high legal costs of medical liability issues and then appearing as a Bush surrogate in the “spin room” after the final presidential debate Wednesday night in Arizona.

Later next week he plans to stump in Louisiana for Rep. David Vitter (R), looking to take the GOP’s first Senate seat in the Bayou State since Reconstruction. Then he’ll be in North Carolina on behalf of Rep. Richard Burr, who is locked in a tight race against Erskine Bowles (D). Burr called a visit from Frist a “huge” validation for his campaign. “It shows the interest they have in the North Carolina race,” he said Wednesday.

Aides to Frist said he would coordinate the remainder of his campaign visits with Allen and the NRSC, but expected his schedule to remain packed right up until Nov. 2.

From mid-September through last weekend, Frist has been to Ohio for events on behalf of Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and then to four states with critical open-seat races: Oklahoma for former Rep. Tom Coburn, Colorado for brewer Pete Coors, Georgia for Rep. Johnny Isakson, and Florida for former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez.

And, in a potential sign of his interest in the presidential race in 2008, Frist campaigned in Iowa for Bush at a doctors roundtable and raised money for a GOP House challenger as well as Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa.).

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