Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Sen. John Thune (R)

South Dakota

Leadership: Senate Republican Conference Chairman

N/A

thune.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 2004, term expires 2016, 2nd term.

Born: January 7, 1961, Pierre, SD

Home: Sioux Falls, SD

Education: Biola U., B.A. 1983, U. of SD, M.B.A. 1984

Professional Career: Legis. asst., U.S. Sen. James Abdnor, 1985–87; Special asst., U.S. Small Business Admin., 1987–89; Exec. dir., SD Republican Party, 1989–91; SD railroad dir., 1991–93; Exec. dir., SD Municipal League, 1993–96.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Evangelical

Family: Married (Kimberley Joe Weems) , 2 children

Republican John Thune, South Dakota’s senior senator, was elected in a close contest in 2004 and reelected without opposition in 2010. His conservative beliefs, good looks, and ease in conveying his party’s message have catapulted him to the chairmanship of the Senate Republican Conference, the No. 3 GOP leadership post, and have fed speculation about his plans for national office.

But in the 114th Congress (2015-16) Thune also took over the chairmanship of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and appeared to close the door to mounting a bid in 2016. “I am not actively pursuing [the presidency] at the moment; I’ve got my work cut out for me in the Senate,” he told The Hill in December 2014. “I think being in the majority, and if all things work out here, the committee chairmanship, is going to keep me extremely busy.” South Dakota law forbids him to run for both his Senate seat and the White House.

That didn't prevent Stu Whitney, a columnist for the Argus-Leader of Sioux Falls, to urge him to reconsider. "One of your biggest selling points, other than putting forth a solid conservative agenda, is rugged rural charm, as if John F. Kennedy emerged from the mean streets of Murdo," Whitney said in a column written as a personal note to the senator.

Thune grew up in Murdo, on the dusty plains west of the Missouri River, a small town with a cluster of restaurants and motels at the interchange of Interstate 94 and U.S. 83. His father, the son of a Norwegian immigrant and a Navy veteran of World War II, was a teacher and the family was Democratic. He graduated from Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., and from the business school at the University of South Dakota. As a high school freshman, he met Republican Rep. Jim Abdnor, who spotted Thune at a grocery checkout counter and recalled that the young man had missed only one of six free throws in his high school basketball game the previous night. They kept in touch, and years later, when Abdnor was in the Senate, he hired Thune on his Washington staff, where Thune worked from 1985 until Abdnor lost a bid for reelection to Democrat Tom Daschle in 1986.

Thune returned to South Dakota in 1989 and, at age 28, became executive director of the state Republican Party. In 1991, he was appointed state railroad director by Gov. George Mickelson and in 1993 he became director of the state Municipal League. In 1996, Thune entered a race for the state’s open at large seat in the U.S. House. The favorite in the Republican primary was Lt. Gov. Carole Hillard. But Thune attracted the support of religious conservatives and won the primary 59%-41%. In the general election, he faced Democrat Rick Weiland, a former state director for Daschle. Thune opposed all tax increases and promised to serve only three terms. He won 58%-37%. In the House, Thune was chosen as freshman class representative to the Republican leadership. He was reelected, 75%-25%, in 1998, the largest percentage margin ever for a statewide candidate in South Dakota.

At a White House dinner in April 2001, President George W. Bush urged Thune to challenge Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson in 2002. Daschle, who had become Senate Democratic leader in 1995, pledged to do everything he could to protect Johnson and got him a seat on the Appropriations Committee. In his challenge to Johnson, Thune argued that South Dakota would be better off with a bipartisan Senate delegation. Johnson argued that he and Daschle made a uniquely powerful team and emphasized votes he had cast for Bush administration policies. The two candidates spent about $6 million each, a record amount for South Dakota, and the national parties and independent groups spent much more.

The election was the closest in the nation that year. During most of Election Night and into the morning, Thune led in the count. Then the last two precincts came in, from Shannon County, which includes most of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It voted 92%-8% for Johnson, putting him over the top by a margin of 524 votes—in percentage terms, 50.1%-49.9%. Many Republicans urged Thune to contest the election, but he declined.

Thune went to work as a lobbyist and consultant in Washington. He was urged by Republican leaders and family members to run in 2004 against Daschle, who had beaten lightly funded opponents in 1992 and 1998. As minority leader in a 51-49 Republican-controlled Senate, Daschle remained a pivotal figure. Thune’s favorable ratings remained high after his defeat, and early Republican polls showed him running slightly ahead of Daschle, and it was clear Thune would enjoy the full support of the Bush White House. Bush, who had carried South Dakota 60%-38% in 2000, was at the top of the ballot that year. In January 2004, Thune announced that he would take on Daschle.

He sought to portray Daschle as the chief obstructionist to the Bush agenda in the Senate. To underscore the idea, Majority Leader Bill Frist traveled to South Dakota to stump for Thune, breaking with Senate tradition of party leaders refraining from campaigning against each other. Daschle ran ads in the summer of 2003, arguing that a freshman senator could not hope to match his influence in Washington and emphasizing the federal largesse he had brought to South Dakota. He also emphasized his support of some Bush initiatives. Thune portrayed Daschle as a political insider who lived in a $2 million house in Washington and had lost touch with the folks back home. The state Republican Party sent a mailer attacking the work of Daschle’s wife, an aviation industry lobbyist. It was the most expensive congressional election of the year, as both national parties and numerous third-party interest groups poured millions of dollars into South Dakota. By the end, they had spent $35 million.

The closely fought race brought a huge turnout, up 23% from 2000. Thune won 51%-49%, the first defeat for a Senate party leader since Democrat Ernest McFarland of Arizona lost to Republican Barry Goldwater in 1952. The popular vote margin was 4,508—small, but more than eight times the margin by which Thune had lost to Johnson two years earlier. The contours of the vote were similar. Thune narrowly lost Sioux Falls’ Minnehaha County, but won fast-growing Lincoln County by a bigger margin. He carried Mitchell, North Sioux City, Pierre and Rapid City’s Pennington County and the Black Hills counties around it. He also increased his share of the vote significantly in the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations, where his decision not to challenge the election outcome two years earlier may have earned him goodwill. Daschle won most of the counties in eastern South Dakota. Nationally, Thune was celebrated by Republicans as a giant-killer. He became a talk show favorite, a fundraising star, and a celebrity among Republican freshmen.

In the Senate, Thune established a mostly conservative voting record, especially on cultural issues. His lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union through 2013 was 87% —one percentage point higher than Ohio’s Rob Portman, another Republican often mentioned as a future candidate for higher office. Like Portman, he projects a positive political demeanor. “He is conservative, but his message usually is not bombastic, and he doesn’t say things that scare off moderates and independents,” the Argus Leader observed in January 2013.

Thune occasionally breaks from his party’s most conservative members. In the 112th Congress (2011-12), he joined majorities of lawmakers in voting against GOP amendments to eliminate tax breaks for energy producers and to confirm some of President Barack Obama’s controversial judicial nominees. He also has championed programs important to his rural state that conservatives have sought to kill, such as the Essential Air Service program ensuring that small airports continue to get commercial flights. Unlike some conservatives in the Senate, such as then-Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Thune voted for the final debt limit agreement negotiated by the Republican leadership and the Obama White House.

Taking over as Commerce chairman, he was expected to focus on railroads, which had been a specialty of his lobbying days. He has said he's especially concerned about the intersection of rail freight with agriculture. "In all my years of working on rail matters, I’ve never seen [agricultural] producers more concerned than they are now regarding the restricted capability to move grain to the marketplace,” he said at a September 2014 hearing on rail congestion. He sought a middle ground on raising the federal gasoline tax, which other Republicans proposed be raised to pay for infrastructure spending. "I don't favor increasing any tax," he told Fox News. "But I think we have to look at all options."

He also showed an interest in net neutrality as a way of keeping the Obama administration's Federal Communications Commission from classifying Internet providers as public utilities like phone companies. "Clear and reasonable rules are what every business and consumer needs and expects—this also applies to the Internet," Thune said in a statement as he outlined 11 principles for net-neutrality legislation that would bar Internet service providers from blocking websites, selectively slowing down traffic, or creating special "fast lanes" for sites that pay more. Importantly, the rules would apply to Internet connections both at home and on mobile devices.

One of his first legislative efforts was intensely local. In May 2005, Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, with nearly 4,000 local jobs and half of the nation’s B-1 bombers, was placed on the base closing list, despite Thune’s campaign promise that a Republican senator with good relations with the Bush administration could protect Ellsworth. With South Dakota colleagues Johnson and Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Thune made the case to save the base to the commission, the Pentagon, and White House officials. They generated a crowd of more than 10,000 and a pep-rally atmosphere at a base closing commission hearing in Rapid City, and the base survived.

Thune helped author a section of the 2008 farm bill establishing a permanent disaster program to provide financial aid to farmers whose crops are harmed by natural disasters. He also successfully fought for the inclusion of a provision creating financial incentives for manufacturers that produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, which is abundant in South Dakota. As gas prices climbed in the summer of 2008, Thune joined a bipartisan group of senators that pushed for more offshore oil drilling. On an energy initiative helpful to his state, Thune in July 2009 won passage of an amendment to the defense bill requiring the Air Force to obtain half of its domestic jet fuel from synthetic blends produced in the United States.

On national issues, Thune supports proposals for a biennial budget, a presidential line-item veto, and a joint committee on deficit reduction, which would reduce spending by 10% of the previous year’s budget deficit. Over the years, Thune has supported many earmarks for his state, but in 2010, he voted for the two-year moratorium on earmarks. In July 2009, Thune tried to amend the defense authorization bill with a provision allowing holders of concealed weapons permits in one state to carry their weapons to other states with similar laws. It received 58 votes, but not the 60 needed to stop a filibuster and pass. Although he opposed many of President Obama’s initiatives, Thune supported the president on policy in Afghanistan, including his decision to send in additional troops in late 2009.

Thune was one of the first Senate Republicans to endorse John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, and he was mentioned as a possible running mate after McCain won the party’s nomination. Thune moved up the Republican leadership ladder in June 2009, when he became Republican Policy Committee chairman after the resignation of scandal-plagued John Ensign of Nevada.

After two close Senate races in two years, Thune prepared early for his 2010 reelection campaign, visiting the state often and raising $6 million by February 2010. Leading South Dakota Democrats took a pass on the contest, and the party did not field a candidate. He thus became only the third Republican senator to run unopposed since direct election of senators began in 1913. He ultimately raised $12.5 million, and used part of it to contribute to relatively moderate Republican Senate candidates like Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Carly Fiorina in California, Mark Kirk in Illinois, and Portman.

His leadership political action committee sent money to Republican gubernatorial nominees in Iowa and South Carolina, stirring speculation that Thune might run for president in 2012. And Thune indeed flirted with the idea during the closing months of 2010, telling National Journal that November, “We are taking a look at it. … The one thing I know is that we need to get a candidate out there who can take on this president and hopefully defeat him and his agenda and get us back on a path.” But in February 2011, Thune issued a statement saying that he would not run. He was again a subject of speculation as a running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012, but coming from a small and dependably Republican state almost certainly worked against him. In early 2012, Thune became chairman of the Republican Conference after Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., resigned the post.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2321

(202) 228-5429

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 511
Washington, DC 20510-4105

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2321

(202) 228-5429

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 511
Washington, DC 20510-4105

DISTRICT OFFICE

(605) 334-9596

(605) 334-2591

5015 South Bur Oak Place
Sioux Falls, SD 57108

DISTRICT OFFICE

(605) 334-9596

(605) 334-2591

5015 South Bur Oak
Sioux Falls, SD 57108

DISTRICT OFFICE

(605) 348-7551

(605) 348-7208

246 Founders Park Drive Suite 102
Rapid City, SD 57701-2540

DISTRICT OFFICE

(605) 348-7551

(605) 348-7208

246 Founders Park Drive Suite 102
Rapid City, SD 57701-2540

DISTRICT OFFICE

(605) 225-8823

(605) 225-8468

320 South First Street Suite 101
Aberdeen, SD 57401-4168

DISTRICT OFFICE

(605) 225-8823

(605) 225-8468

320 South First Street Suite 101
Aberdeen, SD 57401-4168

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(605) 221-1010

200 North Phillips Avenue Suite L-101
Sioux Falls, SD 57104-6059

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(605) 221-1010

200 North Phillips Avenue Suite L-101
Sioux Falls, SD 57104-6059

EXPORT CONTACTS » *

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

Aerospace

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Agriculture

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Lynn Tjeerdsma
Senior Policy Advisor

Ty Littau
Legislative Correspondent

Appropriations

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Banking

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Budget

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Campaign

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Disaster

John Kachtik
Legislative Assistant; Military; Legislative Counsel

Economics

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Education

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Energy

Brendon Plack
Staff Director

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Ty Littau
Legislative Correspondent

Brendon Plack **
Staff Director

Environment

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Lynn Tjeerdsma
Senior Policy Advisor

Ty Littau
Legislative Correspondent

Finance

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Foreign

John Kachtik
Legislative Assistant; Military; Legislative Counsel

Govt Ops

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Dennis D'Aquila
Legislative Assistant

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

John Kachtik
Legislative Assistant; Military; Legislative Counsel

Gun Issues

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Health

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Dennis D'Aquila
Legislative Assistant

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

Homeland Security

John Kachtik
Legislative Assistant; Military; Legislative Counsel

Housing

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Human Rights

Dennis D'Aquila
Legislative Assistant

Immigration

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

John Kachtik
Legislative Assistant; Military; Legislative Counsel

Insurance

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Judiciary

John Kachtik
Legislative Assistant; Military; Legislative Counsel

Labor

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Land Use

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Ty Littau
Legislative Correspondent

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Medicare

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Dennis D'Aquila
Legislative Assistant

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

Military

John Kachtik
Legislative Assistant; Military; Legislative Counsel

Native Americans

Dennis D'Aquila
Legislative Assistant

Privacy

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Public Works

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Ty Littau
Legislative Correspondent

Religion

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

John Kachtik
Legislative Assistant; Military; Legislative Counsel

Rural Affairs

Ty Littau
Legislative Correspondent

Science

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Dennis D'Aquila
Legislative Assistant

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Seniors

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Small Business

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Social Security

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

Tax

Paul Poteet
Senior Tax Policy Advisor

Technology

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Telecommunications

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Trade

Paul Poteet
Senior Tax Policy Advisor

Transportation

Jessica McBride
Legislative Assistant

Adam Wek
Legislative Correspondent

adam_wek@thune.senate.gov
(202) 224-2321

Veterans

Jonathan Abdnor
Legislative Assistant

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

Welfare

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

Dennis D'Aquila
Legislative Assistant

Justin Bergeson
Legislative Correspondent

Women

Jane Lucas
Legislative Director

** denotes a leadership staffer

Election Results

2010 GENERAL
John Thune
Unopposed
2010 PRIMARY
John Thune
Unopposed
2004 GENERAL
John Thune
Votes: 197,848
Percent: 51.0%
Tom Daschle
Votes: 193,340
Percent: 49.0%
2004 PRIMARY
John Thune
Unopposed
Prior Winning Percentages
2004 (51%); House: 2000 (73%), 1998 (75%), 1996 (58%)

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