Johnson walks back intention to run again

Last week, Sen. Tim Johnson implied strongly he would be running for a fourth term in response to Mike Rounds’ candidacy for his seat:

As in past campaigns, I will make my formal announcement later next year.  But I feel great, still have work to do, and I fully intend to put together a winning campaign in the weeks and months ahead.

As some of my colleagues pointed out, that’s an ambiguous statement. For one, it doesn’t say WHOSE winning campaign Johnson will put together. It also implies Johnson will be running without actually committing him to doing so.

This morning, I asked Johnson what exactly he meant. And given a chance to clarify, Johnson seemed to back down a little.

"I should have added more clarity to my comments," Johnson said. "If I run again, I will run a strong campaign. But only if I run again, and it’s far too soon to make that statement… I will announce if I’m going to run again next year."

The realpolitik interpretation is that Johnson’s strong statement last week was intended to help blunt the news of Rounds’ endorsement, winning a news cycle, and now that that’s over he’s returned to his on-the-fence position. Possible, though I’m skeptical — what incentive would Johnson have to back down? His statement last week didn’t commit him to anything.

The more significant news in the long run may be that Johnson has committed to a 2013 decision. Isn’t it funny that announcing your campaign more than a year before the election is now considered late?