WASHINGTON (AP) – Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota suffered a possible stroke Wednesday and was taken to a Washington hospital, weeks before his party was to take control of the Senate by a one-vote margin.

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

Johnson, who will 60 on Dec. 28, became disoriented during a conference call with reporters at midday Wednesday, stuttering in response to a question. He appeared to recover and asked if there were any additional questions, then ended the call.

Spokeswoman Julianne Fisher said he walked back to his Capitol office after the call but appeared to not be feeling well. The Capitol physician came to his office and examined him, and it was decided he should 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 had suffered a possible 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 must be replaced, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds would make the appointment. If the Senate is split 50-50, the vice president breaks ties. That is Republican Dick Cheney at present.

Johnson is up for re-election in 2008.

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

Johnson, a 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 re-election bid. Thune defeated Democratic Sen. 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.

Johnson is the second senator to become ill after the Nov. 7 election. Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas, a Republican, was diagnosed with leukemia on Election Day. He is back at work.

—-

Associated Press Writers Laurie Kellman and Natasha Metzler in Washington and Dirk Lammers in Sioux Falls contributed to this report.

AP-ES-12-13-06 1811EST


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.