John Thune, GOP Senate Leader, Announces Re-election

John Thune, the No. 2 GOP leader in the Senate and likely successor to Republican leader Mitch McConnell, announced he will be a candidate for re-election in 2022, ending speculation about the South Dakota senator’s political future.

“I always promised I would do the job, no matter how difficult, uncomfortable or unpopular,” Thune said in a statement on Twitter. “This work continues, which is why, after much thought and prayer, and with the support of my family, I ask the South Dakotas for the opportunity to continue serving them in the United States Senate.”

For months Thune, 61, had said it was not decided whether he would run for a fourth term. He was elected to the House in 1996 and served three terms there. After an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2002, Thune ousted the Senate’s top Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, in 2004. Thune quickly rose through the ranks in the chamber and held several leadership positions.

But he was taken aback by former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election. The senator predicted that Trump’s baseless challenge to Congressional results would fall like “a hound.” Trump attacked him as “RINO” – Republican in name only – and even called on South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to issue a main challenge against him. Noém said on Twitter shortly thereafter, Thune was a friend and she would not run against him.

McConnell had pressured his senior deputy to run for reelection in the solidly red state where Thune enjoys wide support. He called Thune an “exceptional senator” in a radio interview at the end of December. McConnell said that “it would be a real setback for the party and for the country if he retired and I certainly hope he doesn’t.”

South Dakota generally sides with its leadership, but broke with McConnell and voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill this fall.

Several GOP senators have decided to exit this cycle. Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Richard Shelby of Alabama are choosing to step down rather than run for re-election in 2022.

Thune sits on the Senate Commerce Committee and has played a leading role in telecommunications matters, including efforts to promote broadband. He also focused on agricultural issues during his tenure on Capitol Hill.

It was not just electoral calculations that led to questions about Thune’s political future in the Senate, but family considerations. The veteran lawmaker admitted his long commutes and time away from home had taken its toll on his family, previewing his thinking in early December, in an interview with his local newspaper. He hinted that his wife’s preference was for him to retire. “She’s done with it,” he said.

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