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Thune Staffing Changes Send 2012 Signal

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Updated: 2:01 p.m.

The 2012 mystery continues as Sen. John Thune has cut ties with a prominent Washington, D.C., fundraiser.

Roll Call has learned that Thune dropped Lisa Spies as his fundraiser, and in her place he hired Paula Dukes and Laura Rizzo.

An aide to the South Dakota Republican on Monday confirmed the move but declined to comment further.

The staff changes could be interpreted in multiple ways for those trying to gauge whether Thune, who serves as the Senate GOP Policy Committee chairman, is going to pull the trigger on a 2012 presidential run.

Spies specializes in raising money from political action committees in Washington, but she also has an extensive national reach, while Dukes and Rizzo are viewed as more traditional D.C.-oriented PAC fundraisers. Dukes was the PAC director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee last cycle. Accordingly, Thune’s decision to hire Dukes and Rizzo could signal that he is not inclined to run for president.

However, one of Spies’ clients is Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who is also mulling a White House bid. It is possible that she and Thune separated because of the conflict that would ensue if both Republican Members enter the GOP presidential primary.

Additionally, Spies’ husband, Charlie Spies, served as top aide to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) during his 2008 presidential bid, and there is speculation that she is poised to sign on with Romney for a 2012 run that is expected to launch at some point this year.

Meanwhile, Thune’s camp said it is not responsible for any poll that might be in the works testing the Senator’s presidential viability in the key primary state of South Carolina. The website race42012.com has reported an unconfirmed tip that an automated poll gauging support for Thune was under way.

“We were not aware of this polling until we read about it in the media,” Thune spokesman Kyle Downey said.

Downey did not dispute a story in South Dakota’s Argus Leader newspaper that a top Thune supporter based in New Hampshire, businessman Greg Slayton, has been making calls in the first-in-the-nation primary state to determine the level of support for the Senator. Slayton runs an investment firm and is a professor of business administration at Dartmouth College.

“Greg’s a friend from way back, and he’s been involved in some of my Senate campaigns, and we’ve had a number of discussions,” Thune told the Argus Leader in a story published Saturday. “But I think we’ve made it clear that we haven’t made any final decisions. ... He’s on the ground there, and he’s got a good feel for it, and he’s very connected, politically, to what’s happening in the state.”

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