SD GOP Sen. Thune says he’s looking at 2012 presidential, but no decision before next year

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

SD GOP Sen. Thune looking at 2012 presidential run

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Republican Sen. John Thune, who has spent the summer traversing the country, talking policy and raising millions of dollars for a re-election bid that has no opponent, acknowledged Wednesday that he’s considered running for president in 2012.

“I’d be less than honest if I said I hadn’t thought about it, based upon the amount of encouragement that I’ve received from people across South Dakota and my colleagues here in the Senate and people across the country,” Thune said during a conference call with reporters.

However, he said he’s not visiting early primary states, hiring staff or doing any of the other things active candidates are doing.

“It’s something obviously, if you’re interested in maximizing your opportunities to make a difference and to serve, you take a look at,” Thune said. “Yes, I have thought about it and had a discussion with my wife.

“That’s a very long way from planning a run or making a decision.”

That decision will come sometime next year, he said.

Thune insists his current focus is helping elect more Republicans to the Senate and House in November, which is exactly what presidential hopefuls say at this stage of the game, said Bruce Gronbeck, director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Media Studies and Political Culture.

It’s similar to what then-senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did in 2006, Gronbeck said, and it ought to set Thune up for a post-midterm election “near campaign,” Gronbeck said.

Thune, 49, captured the national spotlight in 2004 when he defeated Democrat and then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in a tight race. He has since ascended to No. 4 in the Republican party ranks as chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. His opposition to gay marriage and abortion has earned him points with evangelicals, while his pro-business, anti-tax and pro gun-rights stances have garnered support among more libertarian leaning conservatives.

Mark McKinnon, who served as chief media strategist for George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns and John McCain’s 2008 primary bid, said despite Thune still identifies well with voters despite his long career in Washington.

“He is charming, congenial, polite and statesmanlike,” McKinnon said in an e-mail interview. “Thune has that small town, Midwestern appeal that just seems to scream ‘America.’”

“His problem may be that he’s just too damn nice for presidential politics,” said McKinnon, noting Thune might have to throw some elbows in a presidential primary.

The Senate Republican Policy Committee chairmanship and numerous media interviews and speeches have given Thune ample opportunities to talk policy. But he’ll eventually need to shift away from discussing legislative GOP talking points to broader state-of-the-country speeches, Gronbeck said.

“He’s got to start talking presidentially pretty soon if he’s going to really be able to launch hard,” Gronbeck said.

Senate historians say Thune is only the third Republican to run unopposed for the body since direct elections were established in 1913. But the lack of opponent hasn’t kept him from spending about $4.4 million so far during the election cycle.

Thune said he’s doing everything he’d normally do in a South Dakota campaign, including talking with residents at state and county fairs, Dakotafest and other events. But he’s also been traveling to Ohio, California, Texas, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kansas in support of his Congressional colleagues.

Those trips cost money, but Thune still had more than $6.9 million campaign cash on hand at the end of June.

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