O John Thune, John Thune, where art thou?
He’s comfortably ensconced in Hill office SD-511, of course, going about his daily duties as the Republican senator from South Dakota.
He’s not on the campaign trail for president of the United States.
Too bad for the GOP.
Even back when the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls was filling a debate stage end-to-end, my answer was the same when asked which one I thought could beat Obama in November: “The guy who’s not running.”
Thune pushed back early against presidential speculation, announcing in February 2011 that he wouldn’t seek the Oval Office this year.
That undoubtedly evoked a bigger sigh of relief from the Democrats’ campaign operation than when Mitt Romney said he didn’t care about the very poor. In July 2010, DNC Executive Director Jennifer O’Malley Dillon told the Huffington Post that there was just one prospective Republican candidate who scared her, and he was never a Pennsylvania senator.
“This is personal but John Thune is somebody that I have nightmares about,” she said. “I’ve worked for Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle and he is just a guy you can’t ever count out. He has his head down and is doing some policy stuff. [You] just got to start looking at him.”
Daschle, of course, was Senate minority leader when Thune beat him in the 2004 elections. It marked the first time since 1952 that a Senate party leader lost his seat. Six years later, no Republicans or Democrats challenged Thune for re-election.
Yep, Thune does look like he could be carved into Mount Rushmore tomorrow. But the Republican Conference chairman also comes without a lot of baggage. He’s kept his head down, in semi-obscurity and scandal-free, not prone to letting loose with soundbites that can be used as political weapons.
He’s a Washington insider just at the point the Republican Party needs someone who knows how the system works to beat it. He’s cool and measured during debates and could handily challenge Obama point for point. He’s a born fundraiser. He’s the candidate for the antithetical voters who say that Obama must be unseated in the most important election of our lifetime, then rate ideological purity over a candidate’s electability. On second thought, some of them would still find fault with Thune, but consider the voters you must secure to win a presidential election who would find no fault with the fact that Thune’s PAC didn’t give to Joe Miller for Senate.
Let’s not even take into account my informal polling of liberal friends who swoon at the sight of the senator. One such friend, a journalist and Obama voter who also has a burning crush on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said approvingly of Thune, “Mmm-hmm. … I’d vote for him. Mmmm-hmm.” Acknowledge that a lot of the electorate isn’t that deep, but put forth a candidate with the goods to back up the pretty face.