WASHINGTON (AP) – Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota was hospitalized Wednesday with the symptoms of a stroke and underwent surgery several hours later, officials said.

There was no word on the nature of the surgery, which lasted past midnight, or on Johnson’s condition.

Apart from the risk to his health, Johnson’s illness carried political ramifications. Democrats emerged from last month’s elections with a 51-49 Senate majority.

If he is forced to relinquish his seat, a replacement would be named by South Dakota’s GOP Gov. Mike Rounds.

A Republican appointee would create at 50-50 tie, and allow the GOP to retain Senate control.

Johnson became disoriented during a conference call with reporters at midday Wednesday, stuttering in response to a question.

Before he ended the call, Johnson appeared to recover and asked if there were any additional questions.

Fisher said he then walked back to his Capitol office 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 to the hospital by ambulance around noon, Fisher said.

“It was caught very early,” she said.

In its earlier statement, Johnson’s office had said he had suffered a possible stroke and was “undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team.”

Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada went to the hospital to check on Johnson. He called Johnson a “dear friend to me and to all of us here in the Senate.”

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 Sen. Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, two years later.

Johnson has worked as a lawyer and county prosecutor and served several years in the 1970s and 1980s in the South Dakota state Legislature.

The senator underwent prostate cancer treatment in 2004, and subsequent tests have shown him to be clear of the disease. His wife, Barb, is a breast cancer survivor. The couple have three adult children.

In response to one reporter’s question on the conference call Wednesday, 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.

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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 2048EST


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