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John Thune, No. 2 Senate GOP leader, announces he will seek reelection

John Thune of South Dakota serves as the No. 2 Senate Republican leader.
Samuel Corum
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Getty Images
John Thune of South Dakota serves as the No. 2 Senate Republican leader.

John Thune, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader and likely successor to Republican leader Mitch McConnell, has announced he will run for reelection in 2022, putting an end to the speculation about the South Dakota senator's political future.

"I've always promised that I would do the work, even when it was hard, uncomfortable, or unpopular," Thune said in a statement posted on Twitter. "That work continues, which is why after careful consideration and prayer, and with the support of my family, I'm asking South Dakotans for the opportunity to continue serving them in the U.S. Senate."

For months, Thune, 61, had said he was undecided about whether he would run for a fourth term. He was elected to the House in 1996 and served three terms there. After one unsuccessful Senate bid in 2002, Thune knocked off the top Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, in 2004. Thune rose quickly through the ranks in the chamber and has held multiple leadership posts.

But he caught flack from former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election. The senator predicted that Trump's baseless challenge of the results in Congress would go down like "a shot dog." Trump has attacked him as a "RINO" — Republican in name only — and even appealed to South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem to launch a primary challenge against him. Noem said on Twitter shortly after that Thune was a friend and she would not run against him.

McConnell had lobbied his second-in-command to run for reelection in the solidly red state where Thune enjoys broad support. He called Thune an "outstanding senator" in a radio interview in late December. McConnell said it "would be real setback for the party and for the country if he retired and I certainly hope he won't."

The South Dakotan usually sides with his leadership but broke with McConnell and voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill this fall.

Several GOP senators have decided to exit this cycle. Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Richard Shelby of Alabama are opting to step down rather than run again in 2022.

Thune serves on the Senate Commerce Committee and has played a leading role in telecommunications issues, including efforts to promote broadband. He's also focused on agriculture issues during his tenure on Capitol Hill.

It wasn't just electoral calculations that led to questions about Thune's political future in the Senate but family considerations as well. The veteran lawmaker admitted his long commutes and time away from home have taken a toll on his family, previewing his thinking in early December, in an interview with his local paper. He hinted his wife's preference was that he retire. "She is done with it," he said.

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Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.