John Thune has announced on his Facebook page that he is passing on a run for the presidency.
Thune had been strongly considering a bid, and when I spoke with him this past summer, he seemed more inclined to run than to pass. Several people close to Thune told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that they would be surprised if he chose not to run. But he recognized the difficulty of running from Washington in the current political environment and the challenge of raising money nationally as a senator from South Dakota.
“There’s a taint of Washington right now that you kind of live with,” he says. “I think it goes without saying that people have a very negative view of Washington, and that’s why I think at least in the early going right now there’s more discussion about both current and former governors and people from outside Washington. I think last time Obama proved that you can get past that. I’m not a creature of Washington—I’ve been there now three terms in the House and one term in the Senate—but I’m aware of that.”
Running for president is not a decision to be taken lightly, and it’s clear Thune has given it considerable thought. He talked about a potential Thune for president campaign, and the issues that would drive it, as we traveled from DakotaFest 2010 to the Turner County Fair in Parker in mid-August. He prefaced his comments with a reminder that for the time being he is focused on helping Republican candidates in the 2010 midterms. “The best thing any of us can do to help change the direction of the country is to help elect more Republicans to the Senate.”
Still, he says: “I’m getting a very full look at it. I suppose you try to think what it would look like. One, is it something you want to do. Two, do you think there’s a pathway to get there. And that’s obviously a thought process that involves a lot of other people—your family and whatnot.”
Thune believes that his wife and his daughters, Larissa and Brittany, who encouraged him to challenge Daschle, would support him in a run for president. There are other potential hurdles. “It strikes me that there’s a couple of practical considerations that anybody from a state like South Dakota—if one were interested in doing this—would have to think about. And one is—how do you raise the entry fee? I mean people tell me it’s $30 million minimum to compete in those early states. And we’re not accustomed, I’m not a big—this is not a state where you have a lot of people who can write the big checks or bundlers, like they have in other parts of the country. As you saw, I don’t have family money,” he says with a laugh. “So that’s not an option. And that’s a real consideration, because you don’t want to get out there just with a wish and a prayer. You want to have some idea about how you want to do that.”
I asked the senator about the donor network he developed in his high-profile race in 2004. “That was a race against Daschle, and people were very motivated. We’ve tried to continue to maintain and cultivate that base, and there’s support out there. We have people, I think, who would probably step forward. In $2,400 increments it takes a long way to get to $30 million.”
That’s true, but Thune seems likely to have some high-profile supporters who might help raise the money. “I’ve had a considerable amount of encouragement from some of my colleagues in the Senate and House members,” he said. “The thing you have to discern as a politician, there are always people who have their own agenda and there are people who think they tell you what you want to hear.”
In an interview with Politico earlier this month, he sounded like someone who wanted to stay in the Senate.
“I like where I am. I like what I do,” he told Politico earlier this month. “These committee assignments are obviously going to give me a full portfolio for the foreseeable future. ... I’m in a place where I think I can make a difference. Those are all issues you weigh.”
Thune also joked that his wife, Kimberley, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of Thune’s Senate bid against Tom Daschle in 2004, did not like the exposure of intimate family details depicted in the 2008 campaign book, “Game Change.”