Republican John Thune is the junior senator from South Dakota. He has held this position since 2005, when he became the first senatorial candidate to oust an incumbent Floor Leader since 1952. Previously, he served for three terms as representative at large for South Dakota. He strongly supports term limits in the House, and has voluntarily abided by them himself.
Thune was born in 1961 to a small-town family with multi-generational heartland roots. His family name comes from his paternal grandfather, who came to the United States as an immigrant from Norway and built up a small business in Thune’s home town of Murdo. Thune has earned a BA in business from Biola and an MBA from the University of South Dakota.
Senator Thune identifies as an evangelical Christian whose faith is the anchor of his life. His Christian worldview is the cornerstone of his principles and affects all his decision-making. His wife, Kimberley, is also an evangelical Christian, as are their daughters Brittany and Larissa.
His early political experience includes working for senator James Abdnor at the Small Business Administration, under the Reagan administration. As a rookie senator, Thune was appointed the GOP’s Chief Deputy Whip. He also sits on the Finance, Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committees.
Thune’s presidential appeal is as a consensus candidate with a sense of integrity and small-town, common-sense, conservative values. He supports core conservative values such as tax cuts and gun owners’ rights. He has consistently supported federal funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which he sees as promoting increased political and religious freedom. If he is elected president, Thune will probably seek to amend the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Senator Thune enters 2016 presidential speculation as an established Republican candidate who is mostly free of association with the Bush administration. He is seen as a consensus builder who holds appeal for both the mainstream and Tea Party wings of the GOP. He describes himself as a fiscal conservative, and most of his social policies are socially conservative as well. The American Conservative Union has given him a lifetime rating of 88.97.
He opposes federal funding for elective abortion. He has also consistently opposed President Obama’s health reform legislation.
Thune has voted against the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. He justifies that vote by saying that preserving the Bush tax cuts were a greater priority. He also opposes the tax break for first-time homeowners. He did vote for TARP, but has also proposed recent legislation that would halt all TARP spending. It is likely that the economy will be a lower priority issue by 2016, so these votes may become a liability in future.
As an advocate of ethanol and wind energy, Thune is particularly well positioned to take advantage of the environmental vote. He has successfully lobbied against BRAC recommendations to close Ellsworth Air Force Base, one of the region’s largest employers, which will also appeal to advocates of a decentralized military. He is currently weak on rising international issues such as China, but he has 4 years to remedy that.
One possible liability is Thune’s relatively short and non-distinctive track record. He has almost no national profile. There are no major political accomplishments for which Thune can claim personal responsibility. In his last senatorial run, he didn’t even have an opponent.
Another major liability is Thune’s continued high level of earmark requests, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2008, he asked for $252,490,000 in earmarks, and received nearly all of it. This may not sit well with his voter base of fiscal conservatives. At the same time, Thune opposes federal spending on infrastructure.
Although he is seen as one of the Republican presidential frontrunners, John Thune has confirmed that he will not be making a presidential bid in 2012. He has not ruled out a vice-presidential run in 2012, possibly as Mitt Romney’s running mate, but may let it pass so as not to be seen in conflict with Tim Pawlenty’s bid.
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