Sen. John Thune on Thursday seemed to hit on all the right themes Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference: He slammed the Obama administration, praised President Ronald Reagan and remained coy about his White House ambitions.
The South Dakota Republican began his speech with a vague reference to 2012. Thune is one of several Republicans speaking at CPAC this week who is considering a presidential run.
“It’s fair to say that I don’t have the same national name recognition of some of my more famous Republican colleagues,” Thune said. “The truth is, I’ve never held a book signing. I’ve been to Iowa plenty of times, but it’s usually on my way to South Dakota.”
During his 30-minute remarks, Thune focused more on policy than rhetoric, hitting on national security, spending and the health care reform law.
“In Congress, my Republican colleagues and I are working hard to get the votes to repeal it and replace it,” he said. “But in the meantime, we can and should defund it.”
Thune also spoke about the need for entitlement reform and a balanced budget amendment.
The South Dakota Republican also used his speech to take a swipe at the bipartisan seating arrangement during the State of the Union speech last month, telling the audience that he sat with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y) and Tom Carper (Del.) because he’s so conservative that it takes “two Democrats to balance me out.”
“But let’s be clear: A new seating chart is not bipartisanship. And new rhetoric is not a new agenda,” he said.
Just before the speech, Thune told reporters that he is “coming to final stages” of the process of making a decision on whether to launch a presidential bid.
CPAC attendees Diane Longmore and Melissa Kosmorsky of Yardley, Pa., said they liked what they heard from Thune.
“He says all the right stuff, all the right things,” Longmore said, pointing to Thune’s policy proposals on the economy and national security in particular.
“I liked what he had to say on national security and the economy,” she said. “That’s important to us.”
Longmore also pointed to Thune’s 2004 defeat of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). “I like the fact that he beat Daschle,” she said.
Kosmorsky agreed, saying she thought Thune came off presidential.
Thune “really seemed to have confidence,” Kosmorsky said, adding that it is time for new faces in the presidential primary field. “We can’t keep recycling the same people ... so somebody like Thune would be good.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.