Sen. John Thune has already spent more than $4.6 million on a re-election campaign that doesn’t have an opponent.

Unless, of course, the campaign he is running now is more about a potential presidential bid in 2012 than the foregone conclusion of his U.S. Senate re-election this fall.

Thune, R-S.D., is running unopposed for re-election to his second term, which will make him the first U.S. Senate candidate in state history to win the office without facing a challenger. Yet he is well ahead in campaign spending of both Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., and her Republican challenger, state Rep. Kristi Noem of Castlewood in the hotly contested U.S. House race.

Thune’s campaign spending is in part the reality of preparing to defend an elite, typically highly contested seat in the U.S. Senate. But there are other forces at work, as well. And they could involve a run for the White House.

“Obviously, this could be the start of a presidential exploratory effort,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “He has options there, and he’s going to leave his doors open.”

Without any clear favorites heading toward the 2012 presidential race, Thune stands as a “potentially credible candidate” for the Republican presidential nomination, Sabato said.

“It’s really a wide open campaign at this point,” he said.

And a review of Thune’s campaign spending records shows a national travel schedule that indicates an outreach to donors and expansion of name recognition well beyond what is needed for a South Dakota Senate race. Expense tabs for Newport Beach and Raleigh and Dallas and West Palm Beach mix with Rapid City and Sioux Falls and White Lake and Huron on Thune’s campaign expense records for the past two years.

The Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., keeps a running tally on campaign finance data filed with the Federal Election Commission. The information, available on the center’s OpenSecrets.org website, shows that Thune had raised almost $11.6 million for the 2005-2010 reporting period, through the quarter ending June 30. He had more than $6.9 million in campaign cash on hand and had spent more than $4.6 million through the cycle.

About half of that $4.6 million in spending came in the 18 months leading up to June 30. And it seemed to reflect a strong incumbent who had prepared for a tough challenge in his Senate re-election campaign but also has been considering possibilities beyond that, said Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics.

“You don’t know what kind of opponent you’re going to draw, so certainly no candidate, Republican or Democrat, wants to end up going to a gun fight with a knife,” Levinthal said. “So you’re going to do everything you can to prepare yourself. And clearly, Thune has prepared himself very well from a dollars-and-cents standpoint.”

Then there’s the 2012 presidential cycle to consider, which requires extensive travel, national networking, fundraising and friend-making on a grand scale.

There are signs of that, as well, in Thune’s campaign spending, particularly in the 2009 and 2010 reports, Levinthal said.

“In those calendar years, Thune has spent about $1 million on administrative costs, staff, other office-type expenses, a good deal on media and fundraising, a lot of campaign expenses,” he said. “So he’s been spending perhaps more aggressively than one would think for a candidate who is effectively unopposed.”

Thune is accustomed to playing with big numbers in campaigns. He spent almost $7 million in a near-miss loss to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., in 2002, before spending almost $15 million to defeat former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in 2004.

With about $7 million in the bank at the end of June, more coming in and no opposition this fall, Thune is in a position to look at the presidential race. But he must do so carefully in a state where voters have thrown out noted senators like Daschle, George McGovern and Larry Pressler after three terms.

Bob Burns, a retired professor of political science at South Dakota State University in Brookings, said he was recently contacted by Congressional Quarterly to discuss Thune’s interest in a presidential run. Burns told CQ that Thune was playing it smart.

“My statement was there may well be something going on inside the beltway and even nationally with regard to his presidential ambitions, but in South Dakota, he’s focusing very wisely on the 2010 Senate re-election,” Burns said. “He knows from Senators Pressler, McGovern and Daschle that you can get ahead of yourself, and the tide can turn against you. So I think he’s working very hard to maintain his South Dakota support base.”

McGovern is remembered for winning the Democratic nomination for president in 1972, then losing badly to Republican Richard Nixon in the general election that fall. Pressler made a short-lived presidential bid in 1979, and Daschle prepared for a run in 2003, before deciding to run again for the Senate.

The various degrees of presidential interest and involvement by the three senators were not in themselves decisive in their eventual defeats at the polls. They were part of an overall impression by some voters that the senators had altered their priorities and lost focus on South Dakota, allegations that all three denied.

Thune’s defeat of Daschle, then the Senate Democratic leader, gave him an immediate level of respect and celebrity within the Republican Party. And he has made quick steps up in Senate leadership roles.

Thune downplays his gains in standing with the GOP, except as they allow him to be more effective for South Dakota. And he deflects when asked about 2012.

“I’m focused on 2010, my re-election and serving South Dakota,” he said in a previous interview.

Such wise political replies don’t take him off a short list of likely presidential candidates, however.

“My goodness, he has to be one of five or six, or maybe 10 -- but it’s a pretty short list -- of Republican candidates out there,” Burns said.

Thune campaign manager Justin Brasell makes sure that reporters know he’s managing a U.S. Senate campaign, not building the base for a Thune presidential run. When asked what his plans are after Nov. 2, Brasell gives a Thune-like response.

“I have not discussed anything beyond Election Day with Sen. Thune,” he said.

Brasell points out that Thune’s campaign fundraising and spending numbers are for an entire election cycle, with emphasis on the last year in preparation for a contested race. Even without a challenger, Thune makes campaign stops and appearances. And Brasell said he coordinates Thune’s “non-government travel and events, including activities like parades, where we recruit volunteers to participate. We run an active campaign website and social network. We receive a lot of campaign-focused correspondence, which we answer.”

Brasell also oversees the fundraising and spending process and FEC reports.

Thune’s travel schedule includes many out-of-state events, some of which include helping other Republican candidates. Those stops also help Thune by building more national name recognition, meeting important donors and making friends within Congress and the party, Levinthal said.

“If you are strongly rumored to be strongly considering a presidential run in 2012, it certainly doesn’t hurt your cause to get around a little bit and to spread your wealth around in an otherwise stealthy campaign for an office you may or may not seek,” Levinthal said.

One of Thune’s campaign expenses that Levinthal noted in particular was a total of $82,800 for advertising on Facebook, a popular social-networking website.

“You wouldn’t have seen that on 2004 campaign finance reports,” Levinthal said. “Now, along with the car rentals and restaurant bills and direct marketing and campaign staff expenses, you see some other things, like Facebook, that are reflective of the times.”

They might also be reflective of a secure Senate incumbent who is considering other possibilities in 2012.

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

 

(21) comments

nothanks
nothanks

196thlightinfantry said: "John Thune will have about as much of a chance on being president as either Mickey Mouse or Daffy Duck would. I say that maybe he may have a better chance if he were to pick one of them. I don't think that when he chooses Tancredo, it will make much sense, but it will be his choice."

Are you joking? Have you heard what a great reputation Senator Thune has, especially outside South Dakota?

First of all, Thune will NOT choose Tom Tancredo, Senator Thune is far too principled, classy, and powerful to run Tancredo on his ticket. That would be disastrous, like McCain picking Palin; Tancredo is just too unhinged and unpredictable, I doubt Senator Thune would ever pick him to run a carnival, much less a vice presidential campaign. Tancredo is a one-man circus freakshow, are you kidding? I think some of you are vastly underestimating the kind of vantage Senator Thune possesses. Tancredo is a walking punchline, ANYONE who would run on a presidential ticket with that political joke should prepare to lose by an even wider margin than McCain/Palin did (173 electoral votes compared to Obama/Biden's 365, and only 270 is needed to win). If Thune (or anybody) wants to be the first presidential candidate to receive zero electoral votes (Tancredo would even lose his own state), then by all means, run on the same ticket as Tom Tancredo.


You should read the profile the NY Times did of him in an article called "Meet John Thune" from Nov 13 of last year, it describes an articulate, thoughtful, well-reasoned, very well-spoken senator. It's a very good profile on him, I was pleasantly surprised having moved from SD in 2006 and dropped out of following the senator. One can tell he's not well-spoken because he's fed talking points, but because he's a deeply rational thinker, on every issue he takes, he takes a stance from intelligence and instinct rather than emotion - in this manner, he's very much like our pragmatic current president, and that quality is sure to win over left-leaning independents and democrats outside of SD (in the NYTimes profile, the author notes it was a liberal Democrat that first suggested the article on Thune). I would describe Senator Thune as the exact polar opposite of emotionally-charged, knee-jerk Republicans like Palin (whom I couldn't bring myself to vote for in 2008 because of McCain's older age and the possibility of a benighted imbecile becoming leader of the free world).

That, combined with the fact that Senator Thune never just tows the Republican line by falling in lock step, only reaffirmed what a great person and legislator he is, such as when he recommended that fellow Republicans distance themselves from President Bush in the 2008 elections. It may have angered quite a few Republicans, but his words of advice literally rang like a soundboard of America, because in 2008, Republicans were widely rejected and we saw voters from sea to sea usher in a Democratic president and supermajority in both houses of Congress. I think he has a very accurate feel for the radial pulse of America, so I trust if he runs in 2012 or 2016 or whenever, it'll be a well-advised, wise decision.


He is a gracious Senator that earned the respect of many Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The only possible adversary Thune would have is the emotionally-charged Left, and possibly the emotionally-charged far Right, but he could easily win without either group. For anyone else given to reason and rational discourse, Senator Thune is extremely appealing no matter what your politics are, because he's shown he's not just about Right or Left, but will work in the best interests of voters. I think Senator Thune is a welcome relief from this political vaudeville/pasquinade/charade that is the Tea Party movement (which is more like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland to those of us who are capable of sensible and cognizant contemplation), and he possesses the potential to steer political discourse back to the realm of the rational, reasonable, logical, and sane. I doubt he would ever fall victim to lowbrow late-night comedic fodder, unlike many current politicians.


I wonder why he hasn't moved up faster in the Senate, perhaps it is because he IS so ecumenical whereas Congressional appointments are mostly partisan. However, that won't matter if he runs for president, because it's not GOP voters he needs, but a majority from America; it's more important to have the support of the moderate intermediate which holds the biggest relative quantity in the multivariate normal distribution of voters.

nothanks
nothanks

[quote]196thlightinfantry said: "John Thune will have about as much of a chance on being president as either Mickey Mouse or Daffy Duck would. I say that maybe he may have a better chance if he were to pick one of them. I don't think that when he chooses Tancredo, it will make much sense, but it will be his choice."[/quote]

Are you joking? Have you heard what a great reputation Senator Thune has, especially outside South Dakota?

First of all, Thune will NOT choose Tom Tancredo, Senator Thune is far too principled, classy, and powerful to run Tancredo on his ticket. That would be disastrous, like McCain picking Palin; Tancredo is just too unhinged and unpredictable, I doubt Senator Thune would ever pick him to run a carnival, much less a vice presidential campaign. Tancredo is a one-man circus freakshow, are you kidding? I think some of you are vastly underestimating the kind of vantage Senator Thune possesses. Tancredo is a walking punchline, ANYONE who would run on a presidential ticket with that political joke should prepare to lose by an even wider margin than McCain/Palin did (173 electoral votes compared to Obama/Biden's 365, and only 270 is needed to win). If Thune (or anybody) wants to be the first presidential candidate to receive zero electoral votes (Tancredo would even lose his own state), then by all means, run on the same ticket as Tom Tancredo.


You should read the profile the NY Times did of him in an article called "Meet John Thune" from Nov 13 of last year, it describes an articulate, thoughtful, well-reasoned, very well-spoken senator. It's a very good profile on him, I was pleasantly surprised having moved from SD in 2006 and dropped out of following the senator. One can tell he's not well-spoken because he's fed talking points, but because he's a deeply rational thinker, on every issue he takes, he takes a stance from intelligence and instinct rather than emotion - in this manner, he's very much like our pragmatic current president, and that quality is sure to win over left-leaning independents and democrats outside of SD (in the NYTimes profile, the author notes it was a liberal Democrat that first suggested the article on Thune). I would describe Senator Thune as the exact polar opposite of emotionally-charged, knee-jerk Republicans like Palin (whom I couldn't bring myself to vote for in 2008 because of McCain's older age and the possibility of a benighted imbecile becoming leader of the free world).

That, combined with the fact that Senator Thune never just tows the Republican line by falling in lock step, only reaffirmed what a great person and legislator he is, such as when he recommended that fellow Republicans distance themselves from President Bush in the 2008 elections. It may have angered quite a few Republicans, but his words of advice literally rang like a soundboard of America, because in 2008, Republicans were widely rejected and we saw voters from sea to sea usher in a Democratic president and supermajority in both houses of Congress. I think he has a very accurate feel for the radial pulse of America, so I trust if he runs in 2012 or 2016 or whenever, it'll be a well-advised, wise decision.


He is a gracious Senator that earned the respect of many Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The only possible adversary Thune would have is the emotionally-charged Left, and possibly the emotionally-charged far Right, but he could easily win without either group. For anyone else given to reason and rational discourse, Senator Thune is extremely appealing no matter what your politics are, because he's shown he's not just about Right or Left, but will work in the best interests of voters. I think Senator Thune is a welcome relief from this political vaudeville/pasquinade/charade that is the Tea Party movement (which is more like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland to those of us who are capable of sensible and cognizant contemplation), and he possesses the potential to steer political discourse back to the realm of the rational, reasonable, logical, and sane. I doubt he would ever fall victim to lowbrow late-night comedic fodder, unlike many current politicians.


I wonder why he hasn't moved up faster in the Senate, perhaps it is because he IS so ecumenical whereas Congressional appointments are mostly partisan. However, that won't matter if he runs for president, because it's not GOP voters he needs, but a majority from America; it's more important to have the support of the moderate intermediate which holds the biggest relative quantity in the multivariate normal distribution of voters.

196thlightinfantry
196thlightinfantry

John Thune will have about as much of a chance on being president as either Mickey Mouse or Daffy Duck would. I say that maybe he may have a better chance if he were to pick one of them. I don't think that when he chooses Tancredo, it will make much sense, but it will be his choice.

Observer
Observer

"""original ideas" are not necessary"""


That pretty much sums it up.

oldsarge
oldsarge

You gotta be kidding ! Actually, (by some miracle) I hope he gets the nomination....Obama by a landslide in '12. Oh, those repubs...the gift that keeps on giving.

[quote]jonesi said: "196th wrote - " This could be a golden opportunity for Thune to name Tancredo as his vice."Won't take much to beat the team of Obama / Biden. Wonder if Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck are available."[/quote]

Thune better hope that mickey and daffy are busy cuz if not he would not stand a chance of getting the Con's nomination!

Kromag
Kromag

no opponent? trust me he is padding the money.

[quote]jonesi said: "You democritics are just jealous that your people can't raise any money unless it is tied to some left leaning redical group or the unions."[/quote]

So jonesi you must be in favor of the pubs getting their money from Fox News and Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Tala who has also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to projects by Feisal Abdul Rauf's, who is planning to build a Muslim community center and mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan. In case you weren't aware jonesi and the rest of the conservative's (have you ever noticed what the first three letters of conservative spell, it is con, and for a good reason) the Saudi Prince is the second largest shareholder in the parent company of Fox News!

glock, could you please tell us just what "ideologies" thune holds that are not radical?

GooberNatural
GooberNatural

Newport Beach, now that's some pretty "High Falutin'" bretheren that our so called "Fiscally Conservative" senator from good ol' blue state South Dakota has been hanging round. Why that's some of the wealthiest people in the nation.

Wonder what good ol' John Thune might have in common with them thar folks.

0bamanation
0bamanation

You gotta love it...a poster complaining about Thune not coming up with an original idea...using a cut and paste to do it with. Where's those cherished "original ideas" archie?

Ranger01
Ranger01

Couldn't pass up this one. Careful John, those britches are getting a little snug. Is this the same John Thune who can't make a decision until someone (Republican leadership)makes it for him. Keep spending those millions though, its good for the economy!

jonesi
jonesi

You democritics are just jealous that your people can't raise any money unless it is tied to some left leaning redical group or the unions.

Hambone
Hambone

4.6 Million dollars, sounds like a Bush 96% Republican,and he does'nt even have an oppoint. Sounds like "Trickle Down Politics."

WMDMIA
WMDMIA

Don't we just love these fiscally conservative Republicans

ZAR
ZAR

Thune/Tancredo? really? Yeah GW didn't good enough of a job destroying America , lets let corporate greed king Thune be our president, what a joke.. problem is alot of hardworking republicans will vote for him ,and against their better interests, kind of like a heroin addict who keeps injecting poison into his arm just for high...

Rickaroo
Rickaroo

This is the same John Thune who voted with Bush over 95% of the time and look at how it's wrecked our country. No way Jose, you're destined to be a senator Johnnie boy. President, I fear not..........

jonesi
jonesi

196th wrote - " This could be a golden opportunity for Thune to name Tancredo as his vice."

Won't take much to beat the team of Obama / Biden. Wonder if Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck are available.

Glock10mm
Glock10mm

Haha, I love reading the same old tired comments from the anti-Thune bandwagon (it's a microscopic bandwagon, BTW).

Consider how much better off our country would be with John Thune at the helm. Born and raised in South Dakota, he would bring some solid and much needed fiscal conservatism to the office. He has been on the right side of every issue, with one minor slip up one of the stimulus bills. Thune is imminently more qualified and experienced than Obama. Thune knows how to listen to the people. Thune is not a jam-it-down-your-throat legislator. Thune does not hold radical ideologies. Thune does not think he is smarter than the lowly voters. Thune governs from a confident understanding of his constituent’s needs and wishes, balanced by an fluent understanding of controlled spending and balanced budgets. South Dakota would be proud to have John Thune at the helm of this country. And this country would be much better off for it. 71 days until the Great Recovery begins.

196thlightinfantry
196thlightinfantry

I think that John Thune should run for the office of the presient of the United States. The sooner that he declares, the better. I think that if does not make his intentions known soon, Tom Tancredo, coming off from his stunning upset in Colorado, will surely sign on again. This could be a golden opportunity for Thune to name Tancredo as his vice. Run John, Run!!!

RedLeg6
RedLeg6

Johnnie's a flash in the pan. He has accomplished nothing of importance. If he were to even make the Repub nomination for president in 2012, I am afraid the results would be the conservative Republican version of McGovern in '72.

Thune can't even come up with an original idea! He recently was in the news for his idea to have Congress move to a biennial budget but thune must not have realized that the idea was far from new. Some 20 states already have two-year budgeting, and the proposal has been kicking around Capitol Hill and Washington think tanks for decades. Alice Rivlin, a member of President Obama's fiscal commission and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has been advocating two-year budgeting for years.

Thune is trying to build up his policy credentials in advance of a possible presidential campaign in 2012. With that in mind, the conservative, unaccomplished senator intends to make a name for himself on budgetary matters. Thune thinks this approach would eliminate the deficit in 10 years, but he forgot to do the math, so he's off by decades. Arithmetic aside, if Thune's idea is part of a larger effort to "build up his policy credentials," the senator might need a back-up plan. His scheme seems like a pretty thin gimmick -- task some committee with coming up with ideas to reduce the deficit without raising taxes. At that point, Congress would be free to ignore the committee's ideas.

The reason it's hard to take Thune's national ambitions seriously is that he doesn't seem to know anything about anything. Think back over the last couple of years -- when was the last time you remember Thune saying or doing something noteworthy other than 'NO'?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.