Months after the election of Barack Obama, when the great recession was still in its darkest days, it still seemed probable that the once-wildly-popular president would be re-elected in 2012. While it is still nearly forever until November 2012 in political timekeeping, right now no one would put good money on Obama’s re-election. This is causing a number of potential presidential candidates to look more seriously at their prospects. This is the case for one of the most promising Republican figures, who has heretofore been relatively unknown: Senator John Thune of South Dakota.
John Thune is a moderately conservative young senator who is widely respected on both sides of the aisle, but his greatest national exposure was his 2004 election to the senate, the giant-slaying upset of Tom Daschle, then Senate Majority Leader.
I spent many late childhood and early adult years in the Midwest, where the best compliment from nonplussed Midwesterners is that an individual is “solid.” It’s one of those descriptors that is hard to define precisely, but it generally means that the individual is of high character and a strong will, with firm values, plans, and boundaries.
Thune is solid. A 49-year-old three-term congressman and one-term senator from a small town in South Dakota, he has a solidly conservative governing philosophy, a solid family life, solid Christian faith (he is a graduate of one of the nation’s finest Christian colleges: Biola University in LaMirada, California. Oh yes, my alma mater, as well), and solid character.
Most point out that his matinee-idol good looks and 6’ 4” frame help him to “look” presidential, as well. That doesn’t hurt in the image age.
Thune is starting to get some national visibility. David Brooks may have started this at the NY Times in November 2009. Brooks wrote:
He appears to be untouched by cynicism. In speeches and interviews, he is straightforward, intelligent and earnest. He sometimes seems to have emerged straight into the 21st century from a more wholesome time. After high school, he attended Biola University, a small Christian college outside of Los Angeles. He then got an M.B.A. from the University of South Dakota and has spent his adult life ascending — as a Congressional staffer, South Dakota Republican Party chairman, the state railroad director, a member of the U.S. House, and now the Senate.
The Weekly Standard has Thune on the cover of its current issue. Senior Editor Stephen Hayes lists Thune’s assets:
“[H]e is an exceptionally skilled retail politician who can communicate a kind of midwestern, common sense conservatism that is ascendant in reaction to liberal profligacy,” Hayes writes. “It also helps that he’s cultivated the nationwide donor base that gave him $14.5 million to defeat Tom Daschle in 2004. And that South Dakota borders Iowa. And that he’s good on television. And that he’s a devout Christian who can quote Scripture without seeming to proselytize.”
Calling Thune “The Next American President,” Redstate said:
Thune, a proponent of term limits who had previously served 3 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives – and who declined to run for a 4th because he had promised voters he would not (novel concept) – showed tremendous fundraising prowess on a national level in defeating Daschle in 2004. According to Politico, the Thune people already have a fundraising list of over 100,000 donors as a result of that campaign. Couple that with the fact that Thune currently enjoys a 70% approval rating among South Dakota voters, and he appears to be unbeatable in his home state. In fact, six years after defeating Daschle, Thune is up for re-election and Democrats, seemingly sensing the inevitable, have declined to oppose him this time around.
On climate and energy issues that are close to my heart, Thune has a mixed record. He has joined the Republican caucus in resisting most environmental legislation. He did co-sponsor a resolution a goal of setting 25 percent renewable energy by 2025—commonly known as 25X25. This resolution said that:
It is the goal of the United States that, not later than January 1, 2025, the agricultural, forestry, and working land of the US should provide from renewable resources not less than 25% of the total energy consumed and continue to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed, and fiber. [Governors also signed letters of endorsement at 25×25.org] Another sponsor wrote: “Americans understand that we cannot continue to import 60% of our oil from foreign countries, many of which are hostile to the US, if we aim to be strong and secure in the world. They know that we will have to build a clean energy economy if we are to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It is time for Congress to take a more active role in our clean energy future. Establishing a national goal–“25x’25” is the first step.”
Last month Sen. Thune sat down with the Heritage Foundation folks and talked about his plan to rein in federal spending, reform the budget process and other topics.
It is likely the senator from South Dakota will throw his hat into the presidential contest. In a Republican field that has a number of fine candidates, he will have his work cut out for him. But most of the current GOP contenders are either uninspiring or have significant chinks in their armor. I predict Thune will rise quickly to the top tier of candidates after the mid-terms elections, when all eyes will turn to 2012.
What are Thune’s chances? Actually, I think they’re “solid.”