With Republicans nipping at his heels, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) conceded to home-state reporters Thursday that his remarks attributing the war in Iraq to diplomatic failures by President Bush were ill-timed. But Daschle did not back off the substance of his comments, prompting more criticism from South Dakota GOP leaders.

"I don't think the timing of those comments was necessarily the best. . . . I had no idea when I said them what the timing of the military operation would be," Daschle was quoted by the Rapid City Journal as saying in an interview with South Dakota reporters.

The reference was to his remarks on the morning of March 17, when Daschle told a public employees union that he was "saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war." That evening, Bush went on national television to give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to leave Iraq or face war.

The next day Daschle said he was standing by his remarks but declined to elaborate on them. He also began issuing statements of support for U.S. troops and joined in sponsoring a bipartisan resolution commending Bush and the troops that was adopted unanimously by the Senate after the war started.

A Daschle aide said yesterday that the senator's comments Thursday came in response to a question about what he thought in hindsight about the timing of his earlier remarks. "He has continued to say he believes in what he said," the aide added.

After his comments this week, Daschle, who is up for reelection next year, came under a new round of attacks from South Dakota Republicans, including some who said he should go further and apologize. Dan Allen, spokesman for the Senate Republican campaign committee, said the whole incident bears out the committee's belief that "Daschle's efforts to attack the president in Washington don't sit very well with voters back in South Dakota."

Shake-Up in Ky. Governor's Race

Kentucky's mostly quiet gubernatorial race got a bit of a jolt this week, when a judge ruled that a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor -- a protege of Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) -- had failed to meet the state's residency requirements and could not be on the ballot. And that could have consequences for the Republican candidates seeking the party's nomination for governor.

The judge ruled that Hunter Bates, a former chief of staff to McConnell who was running alongside Rep. Ernie Fletcher, has not lived in the Bluegrass State long enough to qualify for the race. Bates considered appealing the decision before deciding that the election schedule did not leave him enough time. The primary is May 20.

Fletcher has not named a replacement. The suit was brought by a local college student and later joined by the running mate of rival GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Nunn. Nunn's campaign filed suit yesterday to disqualify Fletcher, arguing that the Bates decision voided Fletcher's entire candidacy.

The imbroglio buoyed Nunn and the other two GOP candidates -- state Sen. Virgil Moore and former county executive Rebecca Jackson -- who, according to the most recent polls, have been trailing Fletcher.

Each is vying to become the first Republican governor of the state in more than 30 years. The incumbent, Paul Patton, is barred by state term-limit laws from running this year. The race is one of just three gubernatorial contests in 2003; the others are in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Political researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.

Since March 17, when he made remarks attributing the Iraq war to a failure of diplomacy on the part of the president, Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) has stood by his comments but now says his timing was not "necessarily the best."