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Thune’s Popularity Is About to Rise

The phone in Sen. John Thune’s office is about to start ringing — a lot.

The South Dakota Republican — who also leads the Senate GOP Policy Committee and is widely viewed as a 2012 presidential contender —is up for re-election this year. But no Democrat or Independent filed to run against him, leaving him with plenty of time and money to help Republicans win seats this November as the party seeks to regain a true sense of relevancy on Capitol Hill.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said Thursday he planned to meet with Thune soon to explore ways the up-and-coming first-term Senator could help the NRSC and GOP candidates from now until Election Day. Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) added that he fully expects Thune to be a strong political asset over the next 135 days.

So, once the phone starts ringing in earnest, Thune is prepared to answer it.

“I would like to be able to have a little bit more latitude and flexibility — which hopefully I now will have not having an opponent filed in South Dakota — to help Senate candidates, both incumbents who I’m close to and that I agree with on a lot of issues and I want to see come back, and also some of our challengers,” Thune said in an interview Thursday from his office in the Russell Building.

“That will mean helping raise money,” Thune continued. “The big issue this year because the playing field is so extended is really going to be a resource issue. It’s going to be hard resourcing all these candidates, and it’s going to take a lot to help them put the money in the bank that they need to run their campaigns effectively.”

Kyl, who is personally close with Thune, said his colleague brings added political value to the Conference. So far this cycle, Thune — who won the title “giant killer” for defeating then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in 2004 — has headlined or attended more than 30 fundraisers for individual Republican candidates and more than 25 events for the NRSC.

“He brings a lot of talent and a lot of energy, and I think increasingly he is probably somebody that people want to see,” Kyl said.

Thune is currently huddling with his political team to lay out a strategy for the midterm elections. On the agenda: How much of the $6.6 million sitting in his campaign account he might part with, how he will be deployed across the country to fundraise for incumbents and challengers, how to spend the August recess and how much attention to devote to Republicans in South Dakota.

Thune is reluctant to feed the notion that he is a fundraising draw for GOP audiences. And, he noted that there are several races where a Republican Senate Leader might be the last person a candidate wants help from, given the anti-Washington fervor coloring this election cycle.

But the 49-year-old Thune recognizes that his strength is his ability to motivate Republican donors to open their checkbooks, and he is ready to hit the road on behalf of candidates and the NRSC, which is targeting 11 Democratic-held seats this cycle. The GOP needs to win 10 to take back the Senate, a tall order even in a favorable political environment.

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