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Will Democrats
lose control of Senate before they even get it?

Will Democrats
lose control of Senate before they even get it?

Tim_johnson

Democratic U.S. senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota suffered what may have been a stroke on Wednesday, imperiling the scheduled Democratic takeover of the Senate.

Democratic U.S. senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota suffered what may have been a stroke Wednesday and was taken to a Washington, D.C., hospital, his office staff said. If he should be unable to continue to serve, it could halt the scheduled Democratic takeover of the Senate.

Democrats won a 51-49 majority in the November election. South Dakota's governor, who would appoint any temporary replacement, is a Republican.

Johnson became disoriented during a call with reporters at midday, stuttering in response to a question. He appeared to recover, asking if there were any additional questions before ending the call.

Johnson spokeswoman Julianne Fisher said he had walked back to his Capitol office after the call with reporters but appeared to not be feeling well. The Capitol physician came to his office and examined him, and it was decided he needed to go to the hospital. He was taken by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital around noon, Fisher said. ''It was caught very early,'' she said.

Johnson's office released a statement saying he may have suffered a stroke. ''At this stage, he is undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team,'' the statement read.

The White House issued a statement wishing him a speedy recovery. ''Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Johnson and his family,'' said spokesman Alex Conant.

If the two-term senator, 59, is unable to serve when the 110th Congress convenes January 4, South Dakota governor Mike Rounds would appoint a replacement. Johnson is up for reelection in 2008.

South Dakota secretary of state Chris Nelson said there are no special restrictions on such an appointment and that a replacement would not have to be from the same political party.

Johnson turns 60 on December 28. The centrist Democrat was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and has been one of the more reserved members of the chamber, rarely taking center stage at news conferences.

He served in the House for 10 years from 1987 to 1997. His focus has been on committee assignments important to his state's interests--Indian Affairs and Energy and Natural Resources--as well as a spot on Appropriations. The latter allows him to direct funds to South Dakota.

Johnson narrowly defeated Republican John Thune in his 2002 reelection bid. Thune defeated Democrat Tom Daschle two years later. Thune issued a statement saying his prayers were with Johnson and his family. Rounds also issued a statement saying he was hoping for good news.

Johnson has worked as a lawyer and county prosecutor and served several years in the 1970s and 1980s in the South Dakota state legislature. Both Johnson and his wife have battled cancer. The senator underwent prostate cancer treatment in 2004, and subsequent tests have shown him to be clear of the disease. Barb Johnson is a breast cancer survivor.

The couple have two sons and a daughter: Brooks, who served in the U.S. Army in Bosnia, Kosovo, South Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq; Brendan, a Sioux Falls lawyer; and Kelsey, who works in Washington. In response to one reporter's question on the Wednesday conference call, Johnson said he was most looking forward to spending the holidays with his family and grandchildren. (AP)

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