Cowardice and courage

Sen. Larry Craig and Sen. Tim Johnson.

Published August 29, 2007 11:26AM (EDT)

A few hours after Republican Sen. Larry Craig Tuesday blamed his men's room guilty plea on the stress he was under from a newspaper's "witchhunt," South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson made his first public appearance since suffering a brain hemorrhage in December.

At a rally in Sioux Falls, S.D., Johnson was rolled onto the stage in a wheelchair, waved at the crowd, then rose to speak. Although the Associated Press reports that his face "clearly showed the effects of the trauma" and that his speech was slow and sometimes slurred, Johnson said that his "will to fight" for the people of South Dakota has "never been stronger."

Johnson is up for reelection in 2008. Republicans had targeted Johnson's seat -- remember Tom Daschle? -- before he underwent emergency brain surgery, and they continue to target the seat now; earlier this month, National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Ensign said that his party would no longer hold off on making an aggressive run to beat the incumbent.

Although Johnson's staff says he has made no formal decision about running, the senator said in an interview aired on ABC's "Nightline" Tuesday night that he expects to run and win in 2008. And at the rally in Sioux Falls, he made the case -- Reagan-esquely -- that his medical condition could be an asset. "Of course," he said, "I believe I have an unfair edge over most of my colleagues right now -- my mind works faster than my mouth does."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Roy Ashburn Tim Johnson D-s.d