It’s clear that the South Dakota Senator has work to do in New England, however, should he decide to run. He is virtually unknown among New Hampshire’s electorate, evidenced by his last-place finish in a late October poll. Just 1 percent of Granite State Republicans supported Thune in the survey by Public Policy Polling.
He raised some eyebrows by agreeing to a radio interview with a Concord, N.H.-based station last week, an appearance widely reported in Washington as evidence of a likely candidacy, but one that baffled local Republican strategists.
“It’s a tiny, tiny station. Anyone who’s serious about running, there’s usually a rhyme or reason, and wouldn’t do something like that,” said another local Republican operative who hasn’t yet committed to a 2012 campaign.
During the WKXL interview, which spanned several minutes, Thune said his team is “taking a hard look” at a potential presidential run. Thune’s former campaign manager, Justin Brasell, explained Thune’s decision to grant his first extensive local radio interview with the little-known station that has one of the smallest audiences in the Granite State. Brasell said it was a matter of timing, and that the station had reached out several months ago to see whether Thune could call in for an interview.
“We didn’t do anything to promote it. It’s a reflection I think of the hunger in the press for news about 2012,” Brasell told Roll Call. “It’s not a reflection of what the campaign is doing and where Sen. Thune’s organization is. ... We finally got a time that had 10 minutes and he called in.”
Brasell did little to dispel the notion that his former boss will run for president. He said Thune “is highly likely to visit” New Hampshire and Iowa “after the first of the year.”
But it is Brasell’s shifting role that also has produced skepticism among some New Hampshire Republicans.
Having essentially served as Thune’s top political aide through the midterms, Brasell is opening his own consulting firm in Mississippi in the coming weeks. He was Thune’s campaign manager through the 2010 cycle — the Senator ran for re-election unopposed — and served as the lead staffer at his Heartland Values PAC.
“This move is not about John Thune. It’s about getting my kids who are now 5 and 3 settled into a house and putting roots in Jackson,” Brasell said. “I’m going to travel as needed. If Sen. Thune runs, decides to do that, I fully expect to be invited to participate and will relish that role.”
“He’s got a lot of smart people encouraging him to run and who would be helpful if he does,” Brasell continued. “I think some of my friends in New Hampshire might be misreading the tea leaves as to what my departure means.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.