Rep. Thomas A. Daschle says he owns a pair of western boots, but he won't wear them in this campaign.
Rep. Clint Roberts also owns a pair of western boots, and he wears them everywhere in this campaign.
That has become the symbolic difference between these two South Dakota incumbents who are pitted against each other because the state's population loss cost it one of its two congressional seats.
They don't agree on Reaganomics or farm policy, but the contest is turning on whether voters want a Republican congressman, Roberts, who has a 4,000 acre ranch in the Black Hills, wears western boots, represents the rural western side of South Dakota and looks like a rancher -- or a Democratic congressman, Daschle, who wears penny loafers, represents the eastern South Dakota towns, has spent most of his career in politics and considers himself a capable and professional legislator.
"As tough as times are, people think that what's being done is the right way to go," hardware retailer Matt Coad of Dell Rapids told a visitor last week after Daschle left his store. "Everyone feels we're paying for some of our past mistakes, but at the same time, things are screwed down pretty tight."
Daschle, 35, a one-time assistant to former senator James Abourezk, squeaked into office four years ago by 105 votes in a race marked by aggressive door-to-door campaigning. Today, the earnest, boyish-looking congressman still goes door-to-door, and claims that he enjoys 90 percent name recognition in the state.
A self-described "progressive-moderate" in the mold of other young Democrats, Daschle has consistently voted against Reaganomics, but he supported the GOP-backed constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
Roberts, 47, came to Congress in 1980 determined to help carry out the Reagan revolution, and his campaign is largely built around the president's theme that it is the right course.
Several years ago, Roberts modeled for a beer commercial; later he agreed to pose for several days of photos for a Marlboro cigarette advertisement. Although he doesn't think the pictures were ever used, the rugged Marlboro-man image has stuck. And Roberts, while not as polished a performer or as quick on his feet as Daschle, encourages voters to view him as a true South Dakota westerner.
This was the theme of a Roberts television ad that showed a group of distinguished-looked congressmen sitting at a table. Viewers are told this is the House Agriculture Committee, of which both Roberts and Daschle are members.
The camera pans under the table to show Roberts wearing western boots; Daschle has sagging socks that he keeps pulling up and a shoe dangling off the end of his foot. The ad has saturated the state.
Nonetheless, Daschle's campaign polls show him with a comfortable 14 point lead, he says.
Roberts' polls, however, put him only 4 percentage points behind, according to campaign manager Charlene Haar. A survey for Republican Gov. William J. Janklow puts the gap at about 10 points.
Roberts suffered a major embarrassment in his eagerness to close the gap. During a public debate, he contended that Daschle had advocated turning the huge Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota--a big element in the state's economy -- into a park and farmland "greenbelt." Roberts announced he had a tape of the remark and would "apologize" if he was wrong.
What Daschle said, in the context of coming out in favor of the nuclear freeze, is that he wished "the whole world could be a greenbelt." Roberts has refused to apologize -- he asked to be "excused" -- and the incident, which has gotten statewide attention, marred his Marlboro Man image of straight shooting rectitude.