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Thune May Be Capitol’s 2012 Contender

While most of the 2012 GOP presidential buzz is focused on a group of former and soon-to-be-former governors, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is increasingly being viewed as the Capitol’s most likely White House contender.

The telegenic first-term Senator’s national profile is no doubt on the rise — as evidenced by his increased leadership role this Congress and extensive fundraising for his noncompetitive re-election race next year.

“I think the sky’s the limit for Sen. Thune in terms of what he wants to do,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said. “I think he’s certainly one of our most outstanding Members. For a party that always, I think, needs new talent particularly in the presidential circles, I think he would be a great addition.”

When asked about presidential aspirations, Thune said he was focused only on his re-election campaign — even though he has not attracted a single Democratic opponent so far. But Thune has undoubtably been more vocal and visible in recent weeks, appearing with some regularity on cable news shows and playing a key role in presenting the GOP response to Democrats’ health care legislation through his role as Republican Policy Committee chairman.

“I think part of it is just that we’re really trying to step up our messaging efforts with this health care issue,” Thune said. “It’s not so much me, but I think everybody is doing that. I think everybody’s trying to get out there more, trying to do everything we can to maximize.”

A true veteran of Capitol Hill, Thune worked as a staffer for former Sen. Jim Abdnor (R-S.D.), served in the House for three terms and most recently took over the Republican Policy Committee post from Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) this summer. Ensign was the only other often-mentioned potential White House contender on Capitol Hill, but he dropped any such aspirations and relinquished his leadership post in June when he admitted to having an extramarital affair.

During his time in the Senate, Thune has demonstrated that he can be politically savvy. His 2004 victory over then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) allowed him to amass an impressive Rolodex of donors across the country. With that in mind, he became a leading choice to head the NRSC for the 2008 cycle. But despite significant lobbying from his colleagues, Thune ultimately bowed out, making way for Ensign.

Thune’s official reasoning was that he wanted to focus on issues important to South Dakota. Republicans close to the lawmaker, however, have acknowledged that a major factor in his decision not to take the NRSC job were the bleak prospects Republicans were facing last cycle. According to these sources, Thune understood that with several GOP-held seats in swing states open and public sentiment turning hard against Republicans, it would at best be an uphill struggle to hold seats, let alone make gains against Democrats.

The South Dakota Republican, however, has done his part in fundraising for his colleagues this cycle. Thune has headlined events for other GOP Senate candidates, including former Rep. Pat Toomey (Pa.), Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.).

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