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New Hampshire Seeing Mixed Messages on Thune’s 2012 Ambitions

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Its 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 Hampshires 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.

Its a tiny, tiny station. Anyone whos serious about running, theres usually a rhyme or reason, and wouldnt do something like that, said another local Republican operative who hasnt 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. Thunes former campaign manager, Justin Brasell, explained Thunes 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 didnt do anything to promote it. Its a reflection I think of the hunger in the press for news about 2012, Brasell told Roll Call. Its not a reflection of what the campaign is doing and where Sen. Thunes 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 Brasells shifting role that also has produced skepticism among some New Hampshire Republicans.

Having essentially served as Thunes top political aide through the midterms, Brasell is opening his own consulting firm in Mississippi in the coming weeks. He was Thunes 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. Its about getting my kids who are now 5 and 3 settled into a house and putting roots in Jackson, Brasell said. Im 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.

Hes 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.

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