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McGovern, Daschle, Patrick Kennedy: 2012 should be Democratic year

Three former Democratic members of Congress, from left, Patrick Kennedy, George McGovern and Tom Daschle, said Democratic candidates, including President Obama, should have a good year in 2012. (Tom Lawrence/Republic)

SIOUX FALLS -- This is a good year to welcome a member of the most famed Democratic family to South Dakota, George McGovern said Saturday.

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy was the featured speaker during the South Dakota Democratic Party's annual McGovern Day dinner on Saturday in Sioux Falls.

Before the dinner, McGovern and former Sen. Tom Daschle, met with the media along with Kennedy, who was a congressman from Rhode Island for 16 years. All three agreed it was a promising time for their party.

"I think this is going to be a Democratic year," McGovern said.

Kennedy said voters would be even more willing to support Democrats if they learned more about the party's positions.

"Especially if they read this book," he said, holding up a copy of McGovern's latest book, "What It Means to Be a Democrat."

Kennedy is the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. The liberal lion, who died in 2009, was a longtime friend and political ally of McGovern's.

McGovern told Kennedy that he and Ted Kennedy both took office after the 1962 election and were seated side-by-side.

While most senators move forward and are seated elsewhere, McGovern said he and Ted Kennedy were seatmates for 18 years, until McGovern left the Senate after his defeat by Jim Abdnor in 1980. McGovern also served four years in the House, when he built the Democratic Party into a competitive factor in South Dakota politics.

Patrick Kennedy said his family's interest in South Dakota -- President John F. Kennedy spoke at the Corn Palace and at the opening the Oahe Dam, and other members of the Kennedy clan have been in the state dozens of times -- comes from their connection to McGovern.

"I'm just happy to represent my family's interest in this state," he said.

Kennedy, 44, said his family "loves" McGovern and greatly admires him. That's one reason he was glad to speak at the dinner.

McGovern, who turns 90 this summer, said he feels the Kennedys have been one of the most truly remarkable families in American history.

The three prominent Democrats said they are excited for their party's chances in 2012.

"We have all the energy on our side," Daschle said.

He said the decline in vote totals in Republican primaries this year shows the GOP is not appealing to moderate voters.

Daschle said he hears the same things from veteran Republican politicians. They feel their party has gone too far to the right.

McGovern said the Republican presidential candidates don't impress him. That that's why he feels President Obama will easily be re-elected this year, and Democratic candidates across the country, and in South Dakota, will make strong showings.

He said his grandson, Matt McGovern, will be elected to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

"I think he's going to make it," the elder McGovern said. "He's a great guy. He's a thinker, not so much a talker like I am."

Daschle said he's witnessed a lot of changes in politics over the past 40 years. He said it just seems like a good time for his party.

"The political cycles come and go," Daschle said.

He said he has been at the top, winning seven elections in South Dakota, and in worse places. Daschle's 26-year congressional career ended in 2004 when he lost a close race to John Thune.

Daschle, 64, said while he misses some parts of a politician's life, he has adjusted. He said there is very little chance he will run again, and he has watched and learned from McGovern to see how a politician can have a successful and happy career after he leaves office.

Some have speculated that Daschle could possibly replace Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., if Johnson decides not to run in 2014.

"I doubt it," Daschle said. "He's raising money. He's going to run."

Johnson was the sole big-name Democrat not to attend McGovern Day festivities. He had planned to attend earlier, but canceled before the event.

Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin served the emcee for the evening's dinner.