Gi­ant killer Thune sees an­other Go­liath

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KARA ROW­LAND

The Repub­li­can who ousted the Demo­cratic leader of the Se­nate in 2004 says Harry Reid finds him­self in a sim­i­lar predica­ment of rep­re­sent­ing a con­ser­va­tive­lean­ing state but lead­ing a lib­eral party.

Sen. John Thune made Se­nate his­tory when he un­seated Sen. Tom Daschle by ex­ploit­ing the gap be­tween Mr. Daschle’s in­ter­ests in Wash­ing­ton and those of his home state of South Dakota. That’s ex­actly where Mr. Reid, the Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader, is now, he said.

“In the case of Se­na­tor Daschle, he was lead­ing a left-of­cen­ter cau­cus and rep­re­sent­ing a right-of-cen­ter state — it was very dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile those two,” Mr. Thune told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “I know that Se­na­tor Reid will work very hard over the course of the next sev­eral months to con­vince his vot­ers in Ne­vada that he’s still very con­nected to them and in touch, but I think that the per­cep­tion that he’s got to over­come is that he is lead­ing a left-of-cen­ter cau­cus in Wash­ing­ton that’s try­ing to do all th­ese things with which they dis­agree.”

Mr. Reid’s fall­ing ap­proval rat­ings have led po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts to de­clare his 2010 re-elec­tion bid a tossup. Re­cent polls have him trail­ing at least two pos­si­ble GOP chal­lengers.

“Any­thing’s pos­si­ble, and we have to as­sume that race is go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive,” Mr. Thune said.

Mr. Thune, a for­mer three­term House mem­ber, has earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a ris­ing GOP star among the up­per cham­ber. The af­fa­ble Mid­west­erner has been a fierce critic of gov­ern­ment spending through­out Pres­i­dent Obama’s first term — dur­ing the de­bate over the stim­u­lus bill, he rou­tinely noted that one could spend $1 mil­lion each day since the birth of Je­sus and still not match the plan’s $787 bil­lion price tag.

He’s also taken the lead on gun rights, and says Sec­ond Amend­ment sup­port­ers re­main a pow­er­ful force de­spite not winning ev­ery vote.

In June, Mr. Thune forced sev­eral Democrats to take a tough vote on a mea­sure that would have re­quired states to honor the con­cealed weapons li­censes of out-of-state cit­i­zens, who would then be sub­ject to the con­ceal­carry laws of the state in which they were trav­el­ing.

Mr. Thune’s amend­ment, which he tried to at­tach to the de­fense autho­riza­tion bill, gar­nered 58 votes — two shy of the 60-vote thresh­old in the Se­nate for con­tentious leg­is­la­tion. The vote was a rare loss for the gun rights lobby, which ear­lier in the year had a sig­nif­i­cant win with Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can Sen. Tom Coburn’s amend­ment al­low­ing guns in some na­tional parks.

“The is­sue I de­cided to take on was clearly the most con­tro­ver­sial of all. It en­er­gized peo­ple on said. “I think what he’s find­ing now as a mat­ter of gov­er­nance is that when you yield the agenda to Capi­tol Hill, the lead­er­ship in the Congress right now is way more left than I think where the Amer­i­can peo­ple are. So yes, if he’s go­ing to suc­ceed on any of th­ese is­sues he’s go­ing to have to be­come more assertive and try and drag his con­gres­sional party back

“I know that Se­na­tor Reid will work very hard over the course of the next sev­eral months to con­vince his vot­ers in Ne­vada that he’s still very con­nected to them and in touch, but I think that the per­cep­tion that he’s got to over­come is that he is lead­ing a left-of-cen­ter cau­cus in Wash­ing­ton that’s try­ing to do all th­ese things with which they dis­agree.”

both sides of the Sec­ond Amend­ment de­bate, but I think that to say that you got 58 votes in the Se­nate — that some­how [the gun rights] move­ment is los­ing steam is just not re­flec­tive of re­al­ity,” said Mr. Thune, not­ing that he lost two Repub­li­cans but picked up the votes of 20 Democrats.

He said he was driven to of­fer con­ceal-carry as an amend­ment to the de­fense bill af­ter Se­nate Democrats tacked on lengthy hate crimes leg­is­la­tion.

“You can’t al­low the ma­jor­ity to just sort of walk over you and of­fer th­ese con­tro­ver­sial amend­ments that are un­re­lated to the un­der­ly­ing bill,” he said.

Like other con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans, Mr. Thune blames Demo­cratic leaders on Capi­tol Hill for fail­ing to strive for bi­par­ti­san­ship, and he said the pres­i­dent should do more to rein in Mr. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“At least rhetor­i­cally dur­ing the cam­paign, he pre­sented him­self as some­one who’s kind of a moderate, some­one who will try and bring peo­ple to­gether and find com­mon ground,” Mr. Thune a lit­tle bit more to­ward the cen­ter.”

As the new head of the Se­nate Repub­li­can Pol­icy Com­mit­tee, Mr. Thune — who re­placed Ne­vada Sen. John En­sign af­ter Mr. En­sign dis­closed an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair — hosts the party’s weekly pol­icy lunch and helps shape the GOP leg­isla­tive agenda. Though mem­bers of the con­fer­ence may dis­agree in cer­tain ar­eas, he said it’s bet­ter for Repub­li­cans to have a wide tent that in­cludes mod­er­ates who will vote with the party on core is­sues.

“It’s a ques­tion of whether you want to be an ide­o­log­i­cally pure mi­nor­ity or a gov­ern­ment ma­jor­ity. I think that you know you’re go­ing to have places in the coun­try where a Repub­li­can in Maine isn’t go­ing to be the same as a Repub­li­can in Ok­la­homa; that’s just the way it is,” he said. “If you want to set the agenda, if you want to be the party that’s ac­tu­ally lead­ing the coun­try, you’re go­ing to have to rec­og­nize that you’re go­ing to have to have a party that in­cludes a lot of peo­ple that you may not agree with on ev­ery is­sue.”

Right now, the uni­fy­ing prin­ci­ple for Repub­li­can se­na­tors is the econ­omy and the ex­pan­sion of gov­ern­ment into the pri­vate sec­tor, said Mr. Thune, who has writ­ten leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing the gov­ern­ment to di­vest it­self of all pri­vate own­er­ship in­ter­ests within one year of be­ing en­acted.

“I just think there are a lot of peo­ple around the coun­try who are very skep­ti­cal hav­ing the gov­ern­ment on a long-term ba­sis own­ing large parts of the pri­vate econ­omy. Even ‘Cash for Clunkers’ — my gosh, we couldn’t even give away $3 bil­lion and do it well,” he said. Congress should pre­vent the $700 bil­lion bailout fund from be­com­ing “the go-to fund for all the dif­fer­ent projects that the ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to un­der­take,” he added.

Mr. Thune does not yet have a chal­lenger for his seat in 2010, but Democrats are al­ready pre­par­ing their lines of at­tack. Erin McCar­rick, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the South Dakota Demo­cratic Party, de­scribed the se­na­tor as “hyp­o­crit­i­cal.”

“Sen. Thune spends more time con­cen­trat­ing on his lead­er­ship re­spon­si­bil­i­ties than he does on his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to South Dakotans,” she said. “At a time when South Dakotans are looking for bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tions and re­lief from our eco­nomic cri­sis, Sen. Thune is of­fer­ing no so­lu­tions, pass­ing lit­tle leg­is­la­tion, and ac­tively work­ing against pro­duc­tive and vi­able leg­is­la­tion.”

Oc­ca­sion­ally cited as a po­ten­tial 2012 GOP pres­i­den­tial con­tender, Mr. Thune — who is up for re-elec­tion next year — was coy about his fu­ture as­pi­ra­tions, say­ing he has no plans to travel to Iowa any­time soon un­less it’s to sam­ple lo­cally made ice cream.

Mr. Thune, a na­tive of Murdo, S.D., a small town in the cen­tral part of the state, said one of his early po­lit­i­cal lessons came dur­ing an ap­pear­ance he made at a St. Pa­trick’s Day pa­rade. An avid sup­porter of the Green Bay Pack­ers, he sported a team sweat­shirt at the event, un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the pas­sions of a con­stituency dom­i­nated by Min­nesota Vik­ings fans.

“It was bizarre. Peo­ple were scream­ing stuff at me and it was just — never again,” he said. “I prob­a­bly lost a thou­sand votes do­ing that.”

KATIE FALKEN­BERG/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Big Game Hunter: Sen. John Thune

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