updated 1/5/2004 1:06:56 PM ET 2004-01-05T18:06:56

Former Rep. John Thune, R-S.D., intends to run against Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle this fall, GOP sources said Monday, giving Republicans the type of high-profile challenger they covet against one of President Bush’s most persistent critics in Congress.

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The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Thune intended to disclose his plans at a party dinner in Sioux Falls, S.D. “He’ll be announcing his intentions, which are to run,” said one official.

Thune is expected to delay a formal announcement of his candidacy for a brief period, although he intends to begin raising campaign funds immediately, officials said.

The race would be his second bid for the Senate, following his narrow defeat in 2000 at the hands of Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Johnson prevailed by 524 votes after a multi-million-dollar battle marked by television attack ads.

Daschle in his third term
Daschle, serving his third term in the Senate, has been Democratic leader since 1995. Despite being a Democrat in a Republican state, he won his last race, in 1998, with 62 percent of the vote.

Republicans have long sought a strong challenger against Daschle, whom the GOP accuses of playing the unyielding obstructionist when it comes to Bush’s agenda. White House aides as well as GOP Senate officials urged Thune to make the race.

Thune’s decision punctuates a period of tumult in South Dakota politics.

Last month, the state’s only member of the House, GOP Rep. Bill Janklow, was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and three lesser charges stemming from a traffic accident that killed a Minnesota motorcyclist. Janklow swiftly resigned his seat, effective Jan. 20.

That prompted House GOP leaders to turn to Thune in hopes of persuading him to run for the seat he held for two terms before challenging Johnson. But Thune, 42, declined.

A special election will be held to fill Janklow’s seat.

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