Graham ‘Real High’ on Thune, Says ’12 Contender Has ‘Unlimited Potential’

by Robert Costa

As Rep. Mike Pence bows out, the 2012 presidential field remains “wide open.”

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, one possible contender, will decide whether to launch a bid by the end of February. Earlier this week, he hinted at his interest, telling ABC News that there is a “big opportunity” on the “national field” for someone to step up. He’s also speaking at CPAC next month and increasing his presence in New Hampshire.

For now, in the marble halls of the Senate, many of his colleagues are urging him to jump in. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, told MSNBC on Wednesday that he hopes Thune will run, and that he’d make a “great president.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), in an interview with National Review Online, was also Thune enthused.

“I think he has an unlimited potential,” Graham says. “He’s the world’s nicest guy, he’s smart. He’d be an excellent candidate, from our point of view. If you know John, you know he’s really a good, solid man — a true-blue conservative, but he’s a consensus builder. I’m real high on John Thune.”

“Beating President Obama is not going to be an easy task,” Graham continues. “It’s about the independent voter at the end of the day. You’ve got to have somebody that our base feels comfortable with, but who can broaden the party’s appeal.  I think John Thune is a guy that could strike most Americans as a decent, Midwestern kind of fellow. That’s what I’m looking for: electability. I’m looking for the most conservative person who’s electable.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) agrees. “[Thune] is, in my opinion, more articulate than our president, he’s taller than our president, and he’s the same age as our president. He has a great profile.”

Though he has powerful friends on the Hill, Thune’s road to the nomination, as Michael Crowley observes, is far from clear:

Thune is not without his problems as a national candidate. He cast some hard-to-explain Senate votes, like one in support of the 2008 bank bailout — a potential deal breaker for Tea Party foot soldiers. Thune also struggled to defend the roughly $100 million in earmarks he tucked into a spending bill late last year, another irritant for party activists. (He argued awkwardly that he backed the projects but opposed the bill.) In Washington, some Republicans are skeptical that Thune has the fire in the belly for the brutal campaign process and note that he has yet to make a mark on policy issues.

For more on Thune, check out this Weekly Standard profile by Stephen F. Hayes.