SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican leader in the Senate, announced Saturday he is seeking reelection to a fourth term in 2022.
Thune, who turned 61 on Friday, has mulled retiring from the Senate for months. But he has a clear path to reelection in reliably-red South Dakota even after he drew the ire of then-President Donald Trump late in 2020 for speaking out against his baseless claims of widespread election fraud. Since then, Thune has offered restrained criticism of Trump’s political imitators at times, but mostly focused on scuttling the Democrats’ plans.
Both parties are fighting for control of a closely divided Senate in 2022.
Thune is a likely successor to Sen. Mitch McConnell as the leader of the GOP’s Senate caucus. As Thune considered retiring, powerful Republicans, from McConnell to Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, urged him to seek another six-year term.
Thune in 2016 carried South Dakota by nearly 72% of the vote, but Trump’s suggestion in 2020 that he should face a primary challenger emboldened some Republicans who argued he had not shown enough loyalty to the former president. A handful of little-known Republicans have said they would challenge Thune.
Thune’s choice signals a willingness to defy Trump, whose clout has often forced other previously politically secure Republicans to leave Congress. Elected Republicans who have previously crossed Trump and subsequently retired include former Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Two of the 10 current House Republicans who voted last January to impeach Trump after he goaded supporters to attack the Capitol have also decided to leave office: Reps. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. In addition, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney was removed from her House GOP leadership job and at least two others face Trump-backed primary challengers.
Should Thune prevail in a primary or if Trump fails to find a credible rival to oppose him, Trump risks being seen as having diminished sway within the party.
Thune, who is South Dakota’s elder GOP statesman, has $14.8 million in campaign cash, according to the most recent federal report.
He has served in Congress for 22 years and ushered in a period of Republican dominance over state politics. However, he had openly expressed hesitation about running for another term, calling it a “family decision” as he mulled it over in recent months.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed from Washington.