CBSN

Daschle Won't Run For President

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle
AP / CBS
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle has decided against running for president in 2004.

Daschle spent the weekend in his home state of South Dakota talking with supporters in Rapid City, Aberdeen and Sioux Falls before making a final decision against making a bid for the White House.

"After careful reflection, I've concluded that at this moment in our
history, with so many important decisions to be made about our nation's future, my passion lies here in the Senate serving the people of South Dakota, and fighting for working families all across America," he said in a prepared statement.

Daschle's surprise announcement left the field for the 2004 party nomination to fellow Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, along with Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida has expressed interest in the nomination, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman has said he would say this month whether he would run.

The soft-spoken, occasionally self-effacing Daschle has surprised even his own colleagues with his political acumen since emerging from a relatively obscure position to take over as the Democrats' Senate leader in 1994.

"I was totally wrong about this young man," senior Senate Democrat Robert Byrd said in 1996, two years after Daschle defeated Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., by a 24-23 vote to become party leader. "He has steel in his spine, despite his reasonable and modest demeanor."

After six years as minority leader, Daschle took over as Senate majority leader in 2001 after Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords switched from the Republican Party and tipped the balance of power to Democrats. That left Daschle with the power to set the agenda and confront the Bush White House on policy and spending priorities.

Daschle could not have anticipated the challenges the nation would face as a country at peace was staggered by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Terror also hit Daschle directly, as anthrax was found in letters mailed to his office one month later, forcing a shutdown of the entire congressional office complex.

Partisan rifts were temporarily ignored as Congress churned out a $40 billion package for defense, counter-terrorism and rebuilding New York and the Pentagon. Daschle also led the Senate in approving a colossal new agency to gird the nation against terrorism and new curbs on corporate behavior and campaign spending.

But Daschle's tenure as majority leader was cut short in November when Republicans regained control of the Senate in the November elections.

Daschle grew up a former Catholic altar boy in Aberdeen, S.D., the oldest of four sons of an auto parts distributor.

In a 2001 speech, Daschle said it was his mother, the daughter of German immigrants who still works as a volunteer in his Aberdeen office, who gave him his drive. "We had to clean the basement every Saturday before we could do anything. We ... shoveled the driveway, even when the drifts were over our heads."

He attended South Dakota State University on a military-backed scholarship and served in the Air Force as an intelligence analyst with the Strategic Air Command.

In the 1970s, he became a Washington staffer for Sen. James Abourezk, D-S.D., and in 1978, after an aggressive door-to-door campaign, won one of the state's two House seats by 139 votes.

In 1982, when South Dakota lost one of those seats, he narrowly defeated the Republican holder of the second seat, and scored another close victory in 1986 when he ousted incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Abdnor.

South Dakota's strong preference for Republicans in presidential elections is behind Daschle's insistence on staying in touch with people back home.