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In first appearance since falling ill, Sen. Johnson tells South Dakota residents: 'I am back'

In first appearance since falling ill, Sen. Johnson tells South Dakota residents: 'I am back'

Sen. Tim Johnson, speaking slowly and slurring some words more than eight months after experiencing a life-threatening brain hemorrhage, announced Tuesday to state residents: "I am back."
He was stricken a month after November 2006 national elections that gave the Democrats a one-seat majority in the U.S. Senate, and his illness raised the possibility that, if he died or resigned, Republican Gov. Mike Rounds would appoint a Republican successor and return the Senate to that party's control.
In his first public appearance since falling ill, the 60-year-old Democrat spoke for about 15 minutes Tuesday to a cheering crowd at the Sioux Falls Convention Center.
Johnson's face and his speech clearly showed the effects of the trauma, but he used his sense of humor to assure supporters he will be back in the Senate soon. Aides said he is expected to return Sept. 5.
"Hard work is something in which I take great pride. So, let me say this tonight going forward: I am back," he said to loud applause.
"Of course, I believe I have an unfair edge over most of my colleagues right now. My mind works faster than my mouth does. Washington would probably be a better place if more people took a moment to think before they spoke."
The senator, who has not officially said whether he is running for re-election in 2008, hinted he would. "My will to keep fighting for you has never been stronger," he said.
He went further in an interview to be aired late Tuesday on ABC News' "Nightline."
"I plan on it," he told reporter Bob Woodruff, according to a transcript of the interview. "I expect to run and to win."
Still, Johnson spokeswoman Julianne Fisher said no official decision has been made.
Tuesday's celebration was a carefully choreographed gathering that took on the appearance of a campaign event. It featured choirs, religious leaders and a string of politicians who praised Johnson.
The event had a campaign feel to it but a bipartisan tone because of the Republicans who wished Johnson well.
Although national political observers focused on how Johnson's illness could affect the party balance, at home it was on Johnson himself, Rounds said.
"They talked about 'what ifs.' But not in South Dakota," he said. "We talked about Tim and his family. We talked about the challenges ahead, and we prayed."
Bryan Wellman, a neurosurgeon at Sanford Neurosurgery in Sioux Falls, said he watched the speech on television and was impressed with Johnson's progress.
"For what he has dealt with, he has done marvelous," said Wellman, who has never treated the senator.
He predicted that Johnson's slurred speech would go away as the weakness in his face got stronger. Wellman also noted that the senator had no problem with names and did not avoid certain types of words.
Two Republicans have said they will seek Johnson's seat: state Rep. Joel Dykstra and Sam Kephart, a self-employed businessman.
Nevada Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has said Johnson is still a Republican target next year. Johnson won re-election in 2002 by just 524 votes.
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Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-17 18:24 GMT+08:00