South Dakota Sen. John Thune just landed two plum posts in the Senate — seats on the influential Finance and Budget committees — that crystallize the decision he now faces: Stay in the Senate to climb the leadership ladder, or jump into the 2012 presidential contest.
The betting among Republicans is that Thune remains in the Senate, and the senator himself acknowledges he might stay put.
“It’s a different scenario maybe than some of the other candidates who don’t have a job,” he said with a laugh Tuesday in an interview in his Senate office. “This is a great place. This is a great job. We all complain about it. It’s frustrating at times … but it is a place where ultimately you can be engaged in the big debates about the issues.”
A few months after he was reelected without opposition, the matinee-handsome South Dakotan said he hasn’t taken requisite steps for a White House run because he’s still mulling it over. Asked whether he would like to be Senate leader someday, Thune said he hadn’t initially planned to be a senator for that long.
But, he added, “I like where I am. I like what I do. These committee assignments are obviously going to give me a full portfolio for the foreseeable future. … I’m in a place where I think I can make a difference. Those are all issues you weigh.”
Another, more personal factor could keep him in the Senate. His wife, Kimberley, read “Game Change,” the blockbuster 2008 campaign book that revealed an array of candidate-spouse spats and depicted a brutal life on the campaign trail.
“It was not helpful,” he joked, calling the book a “downer.”
“But in spite of having read ‘Game Change,’ she’s somebody who really believes in public service, and she’s been a real trooper in all the campaigns. So however this ends up for us, she will be ready to go to work,” he added.
Thune, who just turned 50, signaled he’d very likely make a final decision by month’s end after he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting next week and at other speaking engagements where he plans to “test-drive” his message.