By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff
Last week, South Dakota’s junior senator, John Thune, announced he would not seek the GOP nod for president in 2012. For someone who is barely an asterisk in the extremely early pre-election polls, this “news” created more than just a ripple. No one was really expecting Thune to take this wire to wire. No one was referencing failed South Dakotan 1972 Democratic candidate George McGovern with an “as South Dakota goes, so goes the nation.” And, certainly, no one was racing up to Mt. Rushmore to take measurements for further excavation.
A couple of points on the reasons for the “big splash:” First, the GOP field is so poorly formed at this point that it is even difficult to draw the top tier/second tier demarcations that are typical a year before the primary/caucus season. Now, Thune’s withdrawal is seen as a boost to the chances of a fellow low recognition 2012 wannabee … Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. They appeal to a similar conservative constituency within GOP circles. But, how thinly can you dissect a blip on the radar screen anyway?
Second, political pundits gravitated to a potentially far bigger historical happening when Thune backed off. For the first time since 1904, according to Politico, a sitting member of Congress will not be among the crop of candidates seeking the presidency. And, for the first time in modern political history, according to The Washington Post, the presidential campaign will commence without a sitting U.S. senator in the field. (Where’s Senator DeMint when you really need him?)
Despite enjoying a more than modest bank account, Thune has to be worried (even if he is thinking about 2016) that Capitol Hill tenants often run for president but almost as often fail to win. Before 2008, when Obama and McCain were both sitting senators (I guess one of them had to win), the previous victorious sitting senator was John F. Kennedy. Before him, you need to rewind to Warren G. Harding.
I’m sure campaign 2012 will have more interesting moments than what Senator Thune shared with the political community. But, with Thune’s decision the winnowing has begun even before the field has formed.