The drought has been a hot topic for farmers and ranchers this summer. Now it's become an explosive issue on the campaign trail. In drought-plagued South Dakota, the natural disaster is playing a role in who controls the U.S. Senate.
Politically, the South Dakota Senate race holds a lot of weight. If the Republicans win, the GOP likely takes control of the Senate. And that would knock South Dakota's Tom Daschle from the role of majority leader. It also would gain the White House a close ally, since the president's hand-picked challenger is facing the incumbent Democrat.
Democratic senator Tim Johnson is facing Republican challenger Representative John Thune in the November election. Earlier this year, Thune introduced and helped pass a 750 million dollar drought relief package for ranchers. The bill was in line with parameters set up by President Bush and it was signed into law. Checks are expected to arrive in producers' mailboxes starting in October.
The 750 million dollar appropriation has been welcomed by Johnson, but attacked as "woefully inadequate." The Senator is currently backing a proposal by the Democrats to create a non-budgeted 6 billion dollar aid package for drought relief to all agricultural producers. A vote on the bill is currently being stalled by the Republican minority in what Democrats are calling a purely political tactic.
Thune claims the 6 billion dollar package will run up the deficit or cause the government to dip into social security. Johnson is questioning Thune's recent support of a similar six billion dollar relief package in the House.
The debate over management of the Missouri river is also in the spotlight. New regulations for water flow were slated for release in June, but now are delayed indefinitely. Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers claim the latest delays are caused by conflicts among flood-control laws, endangered species laws, and a river management policy based on sound science.
South Dakota Senators Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle have accused the president of delaying the release of a new Missouri River Master Manual for political gain. In the 2000 campaign, Bush supported a river management policy in tune with Missouri farm interests. If implemented, that policy would run counter to recreational use of the river in South Dakota.
If the manual was released in its anticipated form, the issue could cause problems for the Thune campaign. That point is not lost on Daschle and Johnson who are demanding the manual's immediate release.