John Thune

John Thune
United States Senator
from South Dakota
Assumed office
January 3, 2005
Serving with Mike Rounds
Preceded by Tom Daschle
Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded by Jay Rockefeller
Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
Assumed office
January 26, 2012
Preceded by Lamar Alexander
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's at-large district
In office
January 3, 1997  January 3, 2003
Preceded by Tim Johnson
Succeeded by Bill Janklow
Personal details
Born John Randolph Thune
(1961-01-07) January 7, 1961
Pierre, South Dakota, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Kimberley Weems
Children 2
Alma mater Biola University (BA)
University of South Dakota (MBA)
Website Senate website

John Randolph Thune (born January 7, 1961) is a politician and senior United States Senator from South Dakota, a member of the Republican Party. He previously served as a United States Representative for South Dakota's at-large congressional district. He became South Dakota's senior senator with the retirement of Tim Johnson in 2015. He is the highest-ranking Republican senator from South Dakota, having served as the GOP's Chief Deputy Whip in 2006, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in June 2009, and Republican Conference Chairman in 2011, the third-ranking position in the Senate. He has worked in politics and civic organizations since completing his MBA graduate degree.

Early life, education, and political career

Thune was born in the South Dakota state capital of Pierre, South Dakota, the son of Yvonne Patricia (maiden name Bodine) and Harold Richard Thune.[1][2] Thune's paternal grandfather, Nicholas Thune, was an immigrant from Norway who partnered with his brother Matt to start Thune Hardware stores in Mitchell and Murdo, South Dakota. His maternal grandfather is from Ontario, Canada, and Thune's mother was born in Saskatchewan.[3] Thune has a brother named Richard Thune who lives in California and is an English teacher at Rowland High School. Thune was a star athlete in high school,[4] and was active in basketball, track, and football. Thune graduated from Jones County High School in 1979.[5]

He played college football and basketball at Biola University in California, where he graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business.[6] [7] Thune received the degree of Master of Business Administration from the University of South Dakota in 1984.[8]

Thune continues to be physically active and frequently competes in running events. A 2012 feature by Runner's World Magazine noted that Thune has "been the fastest man in Congress since 2009."[9]

Early politics

After completing his MBA, Thune became involved in politics. He worked as a legislative aide for U.S. Senator James Abdnor from 1985 to 1987.[10] In 1980, Abdnor defeated U.S. Senator George McGovern.[11]

In 1989, Thune moved to the state capital of Pierre, South Dakota, where he served as executive director of the state Republican Party for two years.[12] Thune was appointed as Railroad Director of South Dakota by Governor George S. Mickelson, serving from 1991 to 1993. From 1993 to 1996, he was executive director of the South Dakota Municipal League.[12]

U.S. House of Representatives (1997-2003)


In 1996, Thune decided to make his first foray into electoral politics. That year, he entered the race for South Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Almanac of American Politics said that Thune "entered the 1996 race as very much an underdog."[13] Thune's primary opponent was sitting Lt. Governor Carole Hillard of Rapid City, who benefited from the support of the long-term South Dakota governor Bill Janklow. A poll released in May 1996 showed Hillard ahead of Thune 69%-15%.[13] By relying on strong personal skills and the help of his old network of Abdnor friends, Thune won the primary, defeating Hillard 59%-41%.[14] In the general election, Thune defeated Democrat Rick Weiland, a long-serving aide to U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, 58%-37%.[15]

Thune won his subsequent races for U.S. House by wide margins. He won re-election in 1998 with 75% of the vote[16] and in 2000 with 73% of the vote.[17] In 2002, after briefly considering a run for governor of South Dakota, Thune set his sights on a run for the U.S. Senate.


As a Representative, Thune sponsored 48 bills, including:[18]

105th Congress (1997-1998)

106th Congress (1999-2000)

107th Congress (2001-2002)

U.S. Senate (2005-Present)



In 2002 Thune challenged incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator Tim Johnson. Thune lost his bid by only 524 votes (0.15%).[19] One study concluded: “While the margin of victory [for Johnson] was a mere 524 votes, getting into that winning position required a number of important factors, including Native American turnout, the ability of Johnson and his allies to more effectively use the ground war to get their message out, Thune’s ineffectiveness on the air and lack of experience in winning competitive elections, low voter turnout in key Republican counties, the drought, and finally the presence of Kurt Evans. Evans, a Libertarian candidate who withdrew from the race, endorsed Thune, but remained on the ballot and ciphered away more votes from Thune than Johnson. Evans received only 3,070 votes, but that ended up being six times greater than the margin of victory.”[20] Despite the close results, Thune did not contest the election.[21]


Following his 2002 loss to Tim Johnson, Thune challenged Tom Daschle, the United States Senate Minority Leader and leader of the Senate Democrats, in the 2004 elections. In early 2003, Daschle unexpectedly decided not to run for president. CNN reported that the "announcement surprised even some of his closest aides, one of whom told CNN plans were being made for Daschle to announce his candidacy Saturday in his hometown of Aberdeen, South Dakota."[22]

This was the most expensive Senate race in 2004, with $30 million spent,[23] and it was the most expensive race in South Dakota history. It was widely followed in the national media. Thune, along with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, President of the United States George W. Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney, described Daschle as the "chief obstructionist" of Bush's agenda: "Thune was able to criticize 'Daschle for serving incompatible masters' and portray him, as Frist did when he came to South Dakota to campaign for Thune, as a partisan obstructionist and political heir to liberal icon and former Senator George McGovern of South Dakota."[24]

Daschle's critics charged the Democrat with using filibusters to block confirmation of several of Bush's nominees to the federal judiciary and of being out of step with the views of South Dakota voters on other political and social issues: "The GOP had targeted Daschle, the Senate minority leader, claiming he had been the chief obstruction to President Bush on such issues as tax cuts, judicial nominees and the war in Iraq."[25]

When the race began in early 2004, Daschle led by 7% in January and February. By May, his lead fell to just 2% and into the summer, polls showed an effective tie. Throughout September, Daschle led Thune by margins of 2–5%; from October until the November 2 election, most polls showed Thune and Daschle tied 49% to 49% among likely voters.

On November 2, 2004, Thune defeated Daschle by 4,508 votes, winning 51% of the vote. Daschle's loss was the first ousting of an incumbent Floor Leader since 1952, when Arizona Senator Ernest McFarland lost his seat to Barry Goldwater. The New York Times reported that the loss made “Mr. Daschle the first Senate party leader in more than five decades to be voted out of office. The race had been closely watched by both parties, with White House officials calling the senator an obstructionist for opposing the president on the war in Iraq, tax cuts and judicial nominees. Senator Daschle had fought hard, raising $16 million during the campaign as of mid-October, which he spent largely on television advertisements. Mr. Thune had raised $10 million by the same time.”[26]

South Dakota native Tom Brokaw commented that Thune "ran a very strong campaign" to win the 2004 race.[27] University of South Dakota political scientist Bill Richardson said "motivated John Thune supporters went to the polls in large numbers, part of a massive South Dakota turnout. Unofficial results show nearly 80 percent of registered voters cast ballots."[28]

After Thune defeated Daschle in 2004, many Republicans regarded Thune as a "rising star with unlimited political potential."[29]


Thune faced no Republican or Democratic opposition for his Senate seat in 2010[30] and won re-election with 100% of the vote.[31] Scott Heidepriem, the South Dakota Senate Minority Leader and a Democratic candidate for Governor of South Dakota, said, "We just concluded that John Thune is an extremely popular senator who is going to win another term in the Senate."[32] One political observer of South Dakota politics noted in 2010 that it was "the first time in the state’s modern history in which a major party has failed to field a Senate candidate."[33]


On December 6, 2006, Thune was chosen by Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott to be the GOP's Chief Deputy Whip.[34] After briefly serving as Republican Conference Vice-Chairman, Thune became chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in June 2009, which is the fourth-ranking position in the Senate.

He was elected Republican Conference Chairman in 2011, taking office in January 2012.[35] The Conference Chairman is the third-ranking position in the US Senate. In late 2011, the Mitchell Daily Republic reported that "Thune’s elevation to the No. 3 spot makes him the highest-ranking Republican senator in South Dakota history. Thune has served as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee from 2009 until the present time and was vice chairman of the Republican Conference from 2008 to 2009 and the Republican chief deputy whip from 2006 to 2008."[36]

Thune's emergence as a conservative voice in the US Senate gained him a lengthy profile in the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard.[37] The American Conservative Union gave Senator Thune a rating of 100 in 2006,[38] and again in 2010; as of 2010, Thune's lifetime ACU rating was 88.97.[39] Thune was praised in a 2010 profile by the Weekly Standard as an exceptional politician who was, unlike many of his colleagues, able to communicate traditional conservatism, making him a popular alternative to Tea Party representatives.[40]


Since becoming a Senator, Thune has taken a leading role in formulating energy policy. He pushed for the final passage of a comprehensive energy bill, which overcame a series of Democratic filibusters and passed the Senate in 2005. Thune helped pass another energy bill in late 2007. Thune advocates developing alternative sources of energy such as ethanol and wind energy; South Dakota has high levels of corn production and windy prairies to produce these forms of energy.

On March 6, 2014, Thune introduced the Reliable Home Heating Act (S. 2086; 113th Congress).[41] The bill would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to exempt motor carriers that transport home heating oil from numerous federal safety regulations if the governor of a state declares a state of emergency caused by a shortage of residential heating fuel.[42] The bill also would require the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to notify states if certain petroleum reserves fall below historical averages.[42] Thune said that he was "hopeful that this legislation will eliminate red tape for governors to better meet the needs of their residents and businesses during what can be very dangerous conditions."[43]

Gun laws

Thune has become a strong advocate of conservative causes such as gun rights, sponsoring legislation that would allow individuals with concealed carry permits to use such permits as a valid permit in other states.[44]


In May 2016, Thune sent a letter to Facebook demanding details of how the social media site operates its Trending Topics feature.[45] This followed a Gizmodo article that cited anonymous sources, claiming to be former Facebook employees, who alleged a systemic anti-conservative political bias in how material is selected for display in the list.[46]

Some commentators criticized Thune's letter as an example of government overreach against a private company.[47][48][49] Facebook denied the bias allegations.[50] Thune thanked Facebook in a statement[51] saying, "Private companies are fully entitled to espouse their own views, so I appreciate Facebook’s efforts to address allegations of bias raised in the media and my concern about a lack of transparency in its methodology for determining trending topics."


As a Senator, Thune has sponsored 117 bills, including:[52]

109th Congress (2005-2006)

110th Congress (2007-2008)

111th Congress (2009-2010)

112th Congress (2011-2012)

113th Congress (2013-2014)

Committee assignments

Source: John Thune

Speculation for higher office

Prior to the selection of Sarah Palin, Thune was mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Republican Presumptive Nominee John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Thune publicly played down the speculation.[53]

Significant speculation arose regarding a potential 2012 presidential bid by Thune.[54][55][56][57][58] Thune was encouraged to run by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell,[59] and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who called him "a consensus builder."[60] One Wall Street Journal article stated that Thune possesses "name ID in the parts of the first caucus state of Iowa that get neighboring South Dakota media, a $6.9 million bank account he could use for a presidential run, and a national fundraising list of 100,000 names from his race against [former Senator Tom] Daschle."[61] DNC Executive Director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon publicly stated that "among a field of generally flawed (in one way or another) Republican presidential candidates, there is one who genuinely scares her. 'This is personal[,] but John Thune is somebody that I have nightmares about,' she said. 'I've worked for Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle and he is just a guy you can't ever count out.'"[62] According to multiple commentators, a Thune candidacy could be helped by his personal appearance (he "looks like a president").[63][64][65][66] On February 22, 2011, however, Thune announced he would not run in the presidential election in 2012.[67] During the summer of 2012, the USA Today reported that "South Dakota's Thune is on short list for vice president," but Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan was instead selected.[68] Thune engendered some speculation that he might run in the 2016 presidential election, but he declined to run, stating that his "window...might have closed in 2012."[69]

Electoral history

South Dakota's at-large Congressional district Republican primary election, 1996
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican John R. Thune 41,322 59.49
Republican Carole Hillard 28,139 40.51
South Dakota's at-large congressional district: Results 1996–2000[70]
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1996 Rick Weiland 119,547 37% John R. Thune 186,393 58% Stacey L. Nelson Independent 10,397 3% Kurt Evans Independent 6,866 2%
1998 Jeff Moser 64,433 25% John R. Thune 194,157 75%
2000 Curt Hohn 78,321 25% John R. Thune 231,083 73% Brian Lerohl Libertarian 5,357 2%
Senate elections in South Dakota: Results 2002–2004[70]
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
2002 Tim Johnson 167,481 50% John R. Thune 166,949 49% Kurt Evans Libertarian 3,071 1%
2004 Tom Daschle 193,340 49% John R. Thune 197,848 51%
2010 John R. Thune 227,947 100%

Personal life

Thune married the former Kimberley Weems of Doland, South Dakota in 1984. They have two daughters, Brittany and Larissa.[71]

Thune is a fan of the bands Styx, Journey, Boston, the Doobie Brothers, and Cows.[72]

Thune's father, Harold, was a fighter pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II who flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat. KELO News reported that "Thune flew numerous missions for the Navy from an aircraft carrier. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for shooting down four enemy planes in the Hellcat."[73] Harold Thune flew his missions off the USS Intrepid.

See also


  1. "John Thune ancestry". Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  2. "2012 Presidential Candidates Parents and Grandparents comparison". Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  3. "John Randolph Thune". Retrieved 2008-02-29.
  4. Brooks, David (2009-11-13). "Meet John Thune". The New York Times.
  5. "John Thune Biography". Bio. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  6. "Biola, Family Among Influences for Alumnus Senator". The Chimes. Biola University. February 21, 2008. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  7. "After Biola". Biola University. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  8. "Washington Post article". The Washington Post.
  9. McCue, Matt (October 15, 2012). "2012 Election Year Special". Runner's World. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  10. McCutcheon, Michael; Barone, Chuck (2013). 2014 Almanac of American Politics. The University of Chicago Press.
  11. "E. James "Jim" Abdnor Obituary:". Rapid City Journal. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  12. 1 2 "Revolving Door: John Thune Employment Summary - OpenSecrets". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  13. 1 2 "South Dakota - Rep. John Thune (R)". 1998 Almanac. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  14. "SD At-Large - R Primary Race - Jun 04, 1996". Our Campaigns. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  15. "SD At-Large Race - Nov 05, 1996". Our Campaigns. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  16. "SD At-Large Race - Nov 03, 1998". Our Campaigns. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  17. "SD At-Large Race - Nov 07, 2000". Our Campaigns. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  18. "Representative Thune's Legislation". Library of Congress. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
  19. Ambinder, Marc J. "Thune Concedes in South Dakota - ABC News". Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  20. "" (PDF). Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  21. "Thune Won't Contest Loss in Senate Race". Los Angeles Times. November 14, 2002. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  22. Jonathan Karl CNN Washington (January 7, 2003). " - Daschle decides not to run for president - Jan. 7, 2003". Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  23. Madden, Mike (November 2004). "Daschle, Thune running close in costly race.". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  24. Eisele, Albert (November 16, 2007). "The South Dakota showdown.". The Archived from the original on December 9, 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  25. "Daschle Loses S.D. Seat to Thune.". Associated Press. November 3, 2004. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  26. "South Dakota". The New York Times. November 4, 2004.
  27. "South Dakota Politics: Brokaw". November 24, 2004. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  28. "MPR: Daschle goes down to defeat in South Dakota". Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  29. Bolton, Alexander (16 July 2012). "John Thune rising: GOP senator on Romney's veepstakes and his future". The Hill. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  30. "Strolling back to the Senate? No opposition for Thune". April 2, 2010. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  31. " - Thune Weighs In On Election Impact In D.C.". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  32. Brokaw, Chet (April 1, 2010). "S.D. Dems Skip Senate Race Against GOP's Thune". Yankton Press & Dakotan. Retrieved April 7, 2010.
  33. "2010 Race of the Day: Taking Back South Dakota - Brian Walsh - Page 1". July 13, 2010. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  34. Scheck, Tom (2006-12-06) Lott picks Coleman as Deputy Minority Whip, Minnesota Public Radio
  35. "Thune Elected to Serve as Republican Conference Chairman". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  36. "Roll Call – Congress, Capitol Hill, Political Campaigns, Elections & Washington, D.C.". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  37. "Dakota Dreaming". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  38. "2006 U. S. Congress Ratings". Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  39. Archived February 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  40. Hayes, Stephen (4 October 2010). "Dakota Dreaming". Weekly Standard. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  41. Cox, Ramsey (21 May 2014). "Senate passes aiding transport of home heating fuels". The Hill. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  42. 1 2 "S. 2086 - CBO". Congressional Budget Office. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  43. Brown, Mark (7 March 2014). "Thune to Address Propane and Heating Fuel Shortages". KELO. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  44. "Thune: I Will Bring Back A National Concealed Carry Bill". Human Events. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  45. "Letter from US Senate to Mark Zuckerberg" (PDF). Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  46. "Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News". 2015-08-21. Retrieved 2016-06-11.
  47. "TSITRIAN: Thune goes too far with Facebook demands | Local Columnists". 2016-05-18. Retrieved 2016-06-11.
  48. May 10, 2016 By David Harsanyi (2016-05-10). "The Senate Has No Business Investigating Facebook". Retrieved 2016-06-11.
  49. "Worst part about Facebook news? Government meddling | Editorial". 2016-05-21. Retrieved 2016-06-11.
  50. "Facebook Says an Investigation Found No Evidence of Bias in a News App". The New York Times. 24 May 2016. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  51. "Thune Statement on Facebook Response to Questions About "Trending Topics" Bias Allegations - Press Releases - U.S. Senate Committee On Commerce, Science, & Transportation". 2016-05-23. Retrieved 2016-06-11.
  52. "Senator Thune's Legislation". Library of Congress. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
  53. "– Thune says he won't be McCain's running mate – August 25, 2008". 2008-08-25. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
  54. Jason Linkins (October 4, 2010). "John Thune Begins Potential 2012 Bid By Skirting TARP Vote". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  55. Michael O'Brien (October 23, 2010). "Thune mocks Obama rhetoric, campaign push instead of focus on job creation". The Hill. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  56. "Daschle-dashing Thune in 2012 mix - Jonathan Martin". Politico.Com. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
  57. "The GOP's Fresh 2012 Faces". The Daily Beast. 2010-05-13. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
  58. Allen, Mike (September 25, 2010). "John Thune plans to run in 2012". Politico. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  59. Beutler, Brian (2011-01-26) Thune Rejects Obama's Call For Infrastructure Investment, Talking Points Memo
  60. Costa, Robert (2011-01-28) Graham ‘Real High’ on Thune, Says ’12 Contender Has ‘Unlimited Potential’, National Review
  61. Fund, John (2010-07-30). "A Presidential Dark Horse With Bright Ideas". The Wall Street Journal.
  62. Stein, Sam (2010-07-23). "John Thune Worries DNC Executive The Most Among 2012 Prospects". Huffington Post.
  63. Kasie Hunt. "Political markets betting on John Thune in 2012". POLITICO. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  64. "Sizing up the 2012 GOP presidential contenders". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  65. "The presidential prospects of Senator Thune". Who Gets What. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  66. "The Washington Monthly". Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  67. Merchant, Nomaan (2011-02-22) Thune declines to run for president for 2012, Associated Press
  68. "Most Popular E-mail Newsletter". USA Today. June 10, 2012.
  69. Hagen, Lisa; Railey, Kimberly (18 January 2015). "The Congressional Tease Caucus: 9 Members Who Think (but Never Act) on Running for Higher Office". National Journal. Archived from the original on 19 January 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  70. 1 2 "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Archived from the original on 2007-07-25. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
  71. Mike Allen. "John Thune plans to run in 2012". POLITICO. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  72. Milbank, Dana (2005-02-20) George Wins Time-Travel Race in a Blur, Washington Post
  73. " - Harold Thune: Fighter Pilot Signs Artwork". Retrieved 28 January 2015.

Further reading

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Tim Johnson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's at-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Bill Janklow
Party political offices
Preceded by
Larry Pressler
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
(Class 2)

Succeeded by
Joel Dykstra
Preceded by
Ron Schmidt
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from South Dakota
(Class 3)

2004, 2010, 2016
Most recent
Preceded by
John Cornyn
Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
Succeeded by
Lisa Murkowski
Preceded by
John Ensign
Chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee
Succeeded by
John Barrasso
Preceded by
Lamar Alexander
Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
United States Senate
Preceded by
Tom Daschle
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from South Dakota
Served alongside: Tim Johnson, Mike Rounds
Preceded by
Jay Rockefeller
Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee
United States order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Richard Burr
United States Senators by seniority
Succeeded by
Johnny Isakson
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