Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., would likely become chairman of the Senate Banking Committee next year if Barack Obama is elected president, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says.

Such an appointment would bode well for insurance industry supporters of an optional federal charter, because Sen. Johnson is a primary sponsor of such legislation in the Senate.

Sen. Johnson and Sen. John Sununu, R., N.H., are primary sponsors of S. 40, “The National Insurance Act of 2007,” a bill that would give insurers the option of choosing between a state charter and a federal charter.

Sen. Johnson is running for reelection despite suffering a near-fatal brain hemorrhage in December 2006, just after the Democrats regained control of Congress. He did not return to the Senate for almost a year and still has difficulty speaking.

Steve Jarding, manager of Sen. Johnson’s reelection campaign, today confirmed from South Dakota what Sen. Reid told reporters.

“We have had a number of calls from reporters telling us what Sen. Reid said,” Jarding said.

Under the scenario, the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would open up if Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., becomes vice president. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the current chairman of the Banking Committee, has indicated for a number of years his interest in heading the Foreign Relations Committee.

Jarding and several insurance and banking lobbyists privately confirmed that Sen. Dodd has long had an interest in heading the Foreign Relations Committee.

He has headed the Senate Banking Committee since Democrats regained control of Congress in January 2007. Sen. Dodd has voiced support for an OFC for life insurers but has voiced some concerns about a similar option for property-casualty insurers.

Several industry lobbyists wouldn’t comment on the reports, with one saying, “You won’t get any of us to go near this.”