Something is happening in the heartland. And those who consider themselves to be purveyors of political wisdom would be well served to sit up and take notice: South Dakota Senator John Thune (R) is starting to emerge as a political cyclone.
At this point, most Americans are familiar with John Thune only as a result of his 2004 shocking upset of (then) U.S. Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle, in the South Dakota Senate race. Thune, a proponent of term limits who had previously served 3 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives - and who declined to run for a 4th because he had promised voters he would not (novel concept) - showed tremendous fundraising prowess on a national level in defeating Daschle in 2004. According to Politico, the Thune people already have a fundraising list of over 100,000 donors as a result of that campaign. Couple that with the fact that Thune currently enjoys a 70% approval rating among South Dakota voters, and he appears to be unbeatable in his home state. In fact, six years after defeating Daschle, Thune is up for re-election and Democrats, seemingly sensing the inevitable, have declined to oppose him this time around.
You wouldn't know that Senator Thune is unopposed in November by his fundraising activities, though. As of April 1, 2010, Thune had a campaign war chest in excess of $6.5 million, and it's still growing. Thune has been on a torrent pace over the past several months - attending events around the country, shaking hands and raising money in support of other conservative candidates. A recent Washington Post article by Chris Cillizza highlights the fact that the South Dakota Senator will begin to "raise his national profile" by attending some key conservative functions in Maryland and North Carolina this month. All the while, the quiet, steadily rising tide of "Thune 2012" supporters continues to swell on Facebook, Twitter and beyond.
At a moment in time when the conservative movement is yearning for that pragmatic, plain-spoken, charismatic leader who can connect with people (the way Reagan did), and effectively (and unabashedly) communicate the conservative message, the man and the hour are about to meet. Consider the facts...
1. Obama will be imminently beatable in 2012. What once seemed inconceivable, has become reality. Independents are jumping ship on Obama and the Democrats in droves. While it is impossible to predict what may happen between now and November of 2012 to "sway" the voters in one direction or another, one thing is certain - the American conservative movement is in the midst of a renaissance. This movement is real - there is nothing false, artificial or trendy about the desire of Americans to get their nation's financial house in order. Democrats, led by Obama, have overreached in their lust for more federal control over the everyday lives of Americans, and Americans are pushing back in a major way. The "Stimulus Bill" has failed and healthcare reform was a disaster for Democrats. While, in the end, Obama was able to convince Democrats to "walk the plank" for Obamacare, Americans felt violated over the way in which Democrats arrogantly thumbed their noses at the voters throughout the whole process. The voters will not forget - not now and certainly not by 2012.
2. The Republican field is ripe for the picking. With the exception of (possibly) Sarah Palin, no potential Republican nominee has been able to electrify and unify conservatives. This was a problem for Republicans in 2008 when John McCain received the nomination by default. Result? President Obama and super-majorities for Democrats in both houses of Congress. Don't look for Republicans to make the same mistake again. After 4 full years of "Obamanation," Republicans will be looking for a dynamic, strong leader with broad appeal. Newt Gingrich? Tim Pawlenty? Mike Huckabee? Probably not. Mitt Romney? While he certainly has the executive experience and economic credentials, the former Massachusetts Governor will be hard-pressed to make it out of the Republican primary with the albatross of "RomneyCare" hanging around his neck - oh, and don't forget the fact that he couldn't even beat McCain in 2008. Conservatives are desperate for that unusual combination of substance, charisma and leadership that seems to have eluded them on the national level since Reagan. Enter John Thune. Exhibit A:
3. The Palin Factor. What about the former Alaska Governor and 2008 VP-Candidate, Sarah Palin? A year ago, she seemed to be the heir apparent to the Republican throne. Through a series of her own decisions, though, beginning with her resignation announcement over last year's July 4th holiday, Sarah Palin seems content now playing the role of "King Maker" rather than King (err, Queen). There is no question that, outside of Obama himself, Sarah Palin is one of the most polarizing figures in American politics today. This alone, coupled with the absolute smear job that the media outlets and the goons at Saturday Night Live have perpetrated upon Palin, will make it difficult for her to win in 2012. Plus, one just gets the sense that she's not too in love with the idea of running for President at this point in her life. And frankly, who could blame her?
For his part, John Thune continues to deflect questions about his prospects of running for President in 2012, sticking to what has become his standard, canned response that he's "focused on doing everything [he] can to help Republicans gain majorities in the House and Senate in 2010." The lifelong South Dakotan seems to have embraced his role as the "dark horse" candidate for now, content to sit back in true midwestern style and let all the dust settle before rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. As Oliver Cromwell once said, "Keep your powder dry." Up until this point, Thune has had the powder in dry storage under lock and key. But soon, very soon, the lock is comin' off. The door will open. And John Thune will emerge.