Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber, following widespread rumors that he would retire, has ended that discussion on Saturday, announcing he will run for reelection and a fourth term.
Thune, a close ally of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is seen as a potential heir to McConnell, and his retirement probably would have set off a power struggle at the top of the GOP conference. Members from all sides of the conference had expressed support for Thune, with Maine Senator Susan Collins saying in December that she would be “beside herself” if the whip retired.
In a statement on Twitter on Saturday Thune said, “I’m asking South Dakotans for the opportunity to continue serving them in the U.S. Senate. South Dakota deserves a strong and effective Senator who can deliver the results they expect. I am uniquely positioned to get that job done, and I look forward to earning the support of all South Dakotans in the 2022 election for U.S. Senate.”
Thune was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, when he gained national attention narrowly defeated then-Democrat Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and has long been seen as a natural successor to McConnell in the coming years.
Thune’s announcement leaves only one Senate Republican, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, yet to declare whether or not he will seek reelection. Johnson’s announcement is likely in the coming days. “Five Senate Republicans, including leadership member Roy Blunt of Missouri and Appropriations Committee ranking member Richard Shelby of Alabama, have announced their retirements.
National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Rick Scott said, “South Dakotans are lucky to have a conservative fighter like John Thune working for them in the Senate.”
With almost $15 million in his campaign war chest and no prominent primary challenger, Thune is unlikely to face any serious difficulties in winning reelection. Also, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats almost 2 – 1 in the state.
Former President Donald Trump asked South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem to primary Thune, after his refusal to oppose the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Thune predicted that the House GOP efforts to challenge the 2020 elections would “go down like a shot dog.” And Noem publicly declined to do so.