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Sen. John Thune will likely announce by the end of February whether he will seek the Republican nomination for president.
Pushed to clarify his plans to pursue the nation’s top elected post in 2012, the South Dakota Senator told Roll Call on Wednesday that he’s close to a decision, which would likely come “sometime this month.”
“I realize that in order to do this, if I’m serious about it, I’d have to get out of the gate. So we’re in the final stages,” he said. “We’ve done all the diligence; you do all the analysis, you collect all the data points, and at some point it becomes a gut-level decision.”
“We’ve given it a lot of consideration and talked to a lot of people and, I think, have been very, hopefully, methodical about it.”
Should Thune pursue the presidency, the 50-year-old would be the only Senator among what is expected to be a crowded field that could include as many as four former governors. He said he has sought the counsel of Senate colleagues, “particularly those who have been down the path before,” but has yet to lock up any solid endorsements.
“I have had some that have encouraged me, and generally the discussions I’ve had I would characterize as very positive,” he said. “We haven’t put anybody to sign in blood yet. But I think there would hopefully be some solid support if we decided to move forward.”
Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, is among those who privately discussed his experience with Thune. The Arizona Republican told Roll Call this week that Thune’s status as the only Senator among those openly considering a run for president could be a mixed blessing.
“There’s advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that you have the bully pulpit here,” McCain said. “The disadvantage is that you’re here. So I think it really depends on the individual more than the circumstance. I think he’d be a very strong candidate.”
Sen. John Hoeven, a longtime friend and ally of Thune’s, acknowledged that he has spoken to Thune generally about a presidential bid, but the North Dakota Republican said it’s too early to back any specific candidate.
“He’d be outstanding. He’s a great candidate. There will be others that would be fantastic, too. I am very impressed with the individuals that are taking a look at it,” Hoeven told Roll Call.
“John is a friend of a decade or better, and I think he’s a great individual,” he added. “But Tim Pawlenty and I worked together as governor — I was governor for 10 years, and he was in there for eight. And I’ve known Mitt Romney. I worked with him as governor. For all of us, these are great candidates. It’s going to be fun watching them and helping them.”
Thune’s home state is close to Iowa’s caucuses, which would likely give him a geographical advantage, but Republican strategists in New Hampshire report that they haven’t heard from him or his representatives since the summer. Other potential GOP contenders — most notably former Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — have already begun to lock up support among the Granite State’s Republican operatives.
Thune didn’t earn a single vote in the Jan. 22 straw poll of New Hampshire Republican activists.
McCain suggested there was plenty of time for Thune to improve his name recognition in New Hampshire and elsewhere. With a smile, he offered an oft-repeated line about one of Thune’s advantages. “If I looked like John Thune, I’d be president of the United States today,” McCain said of his 6-foot-4-inch, dark-haired colleague.
There’s little doubt that Thune’s appearance — New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “If you wanted a Republican with the same general body type and athletic grace as Barack Obama, you’d pick Thune” — could be a political asset, especially in a GOP field that Thune said is relatively similar on some levels.
“I think you’re going to have a lot of people who are sort of in the same place philosophically. They’re all going to be right-of-center conservatives, pretty conservative on economic, social and national security issues,” he said. “So I think a lot of whatever differences there [are] are going to be largely ... stylistic, and then I think it’s going to come down to electability.”
It’s unclear whether Thune thinks he has that electability. Look for an answer before the end of the month.