Democrats Pray for a Senator's Health, as Senate Control Hangs in Balance

South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson remained in critical condition after undergoing emergency surgery for bleeding in his brain -- an illness that could have immense political implications.

In a statement released by Sen. Johnson's office, Johnson's medical team said they considered the surgery a success.

"Considering his initial presentation, his progress is encouraging. He is now stabilized and continues to show signs of responsiveness to the medical staff and the family" said Dr. Anthony Caputy, chairman of the hospital's Department of Neurosurgery.

Former Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) visited Johnson in the intensive care unit Friday afternoon and told reporters upon leaving the hospital, "Another good day -- we're encouraged by the progress."

Earlier in the day Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del) visited with Johnson's family and described the recovering senator's condition as "a serious situation that's going to be serious for a while" but that signs were "encouraging.

Incoming Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev), who has visited Johnson at the hospital each day, told reporters Friday morning that Johnson looked good but declined further comment.

The latest news appears to be reassuring for the senator and his family. On Thursday evening, Admiral John Eisold, the Congressional physician, issued a statement saying that Johnson "continue(s) to have an uncomplicated post-operative course. Specifically, he has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch. No further surgical intervention has been required."

Doctors say Johnson, 59, first began experiencing symptoms Wednesday afternoon during a conference call with reporters when he began slurring his speech, stammering, and searching for words.

They say that he has a congenital arteriovenous malformation -- an abnormally tangled network of arteries and veins in his brain that ruptured, causing the bleeding.

From roughly 8 p.m. Wednesday until about 2 a.m. today, Johnson underwent emergency surgery at George Washington University Hospital to stop the bleeding and remove the excess blood.

Johnson's wife Barbara issued a statement today and said their family is "encouraged and optimistic" about his condition. Congressional leaders have echoed those sentiments.

"We're hoping for the best for him and praying for a speedy recovery," said House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Republicans universally issued public statements that didn't touch on political concerns but simply prayed for Johnson's recovery.

These came from as far away as Baghdad, where Johnson's 2002 GOP opponent -- Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who was elected to the Senate two years later -- said he didn't "want to start talking about the what if's."

Thune added that South Dakotans "are hoping and praying for Sen. Johnson for the best possible outcome … We're praying and giving our best possible thoughts to him and his family."

Johnson beat Thune by a reed-thin margin in 2002. His victory in 1996 was also by a slim margin. He is a modest, quiet man in an institution full of egos and sharp elbows, and has a mostly liberal voting record and a moderate demeanor.

His legislative focus is on issues important to his home state of South Dakota -- cattle ranchers, farmers and Native Americans.

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