The damage from the Giago candidacy is now clear. Even Joshua Micah Marshall, the blogosphere's most religious Democratic booster, is having doubts about Daschle's re-election chances. Marshall wonders what's so different from the Thune-Johnson race of 2002. Plenty. Johnson ran as a conservative Democrat seeking drought relief for South Dakota ranchers. Daschle, as the face of the national Democratic Party, can't pull that off. He has already infuriated gun owners (see this too). The pro-lifers opposed his attempt to undermine the Laci Peterson bill. He completely fumbled the ethanol bill, a measure that is sacred in South Dakota, raising questions about Daschle's dwindling clout (Daschle was signing copies of his book, which tanked, causing the DNC to do a bulk buy). The Chamber of Commerce is against him. There's also the problem of the "family business", his new mansion in DC, and relations with the Bishop. These accumulated problems could be why he won't take questions back in South Dakota. Then there's this problem. And half of South Dakotans think Daschle puts the national Democratic party above their interests.
Nationally, Daschle's base is revolting against him, even calling for his resignation. Even former Daschle staffers think Daschle should step down as leader because he's ineffective when trying to run for re-election in SD too. When Daschle was busted for saying how great the Iraq war was going when he was in SD in February, he further alienated his national base. The Daschle campaign's assurances to SD voters that he supported the President 75% of the time made the national base even more angry. Even the Democrats in SD are divided--Daschle's campaign manager recently demanded the return of his donation to the Herseth campaign because of her gay marriage position.
In addition to Daschle having to contend with serious Indian opponents like Tim Giago, Thune has picked up significant Indian support. Daschle's attempts to build support have also fallen flat. Daschle has spent $6 million on ads--what Roll Call deemed a "spending spree"--and hasn't moved the polls a lick. He's slipped, actually, to 48%-45%, and Thune hasn't run an ad yet! Here's more on the polling.
The fundamental problem is that Daschle can't maintain the "house of cards" he's built--he can't pretend to be a conservative in South Dakota and lead the liberal vanguard in Washington. People in South Dakota, despite Daschle's $6 million media barrage, know such posturing is dishonest. Daschle may have thought he could pull it off. He may have become blinded by his own cynicism. The obvious comparison is to George McGovern, who ran as a liberal and, when the voters turned against liberalism, was defeated, while proudly adhering to his beliefs, instead of embracing spin, cynicism, and obfuscation.
UPDATE: Powerline weighs in. So does Hugh Hewitt (Hugh notes: "There's even a blog devoted exclusively to this race, which is a pretty interesting development. Bookmark Daschle v. Thune for updates on the marquee race of 2004." -- thanks Hugh!). See Joe's Blog for Daschle as chicken. Econpundit also takes notice, as does Betsy's Page and Slublog.