Months ago Republican South Dakota Senator John Thune's insiders were thrilled that he had scored a plum speaking slot at this week's 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a key launching pad for conservative presidential hopefuls.But with a self-imposed deadline at the end of the month for Thune to decide whether he'll seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination most indicators suggest he will not remain a presidential contender much longer.
Thune has been busy in the Senate as the Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and was just recently named to the powerful Senate Finance and Budget committees.
Meanwhile, he has done very little to lay the groundwork for a campaign.
Unlike most other 2012 contenders Thune has made virtually no effort to introduce himself in Iowa or New Hampshire where the first presidential caucuses and primary election take place a year from now.
As a result, Thune remains largely an unknown in the early voting states. GOP generals and rank and file alike in both states have complained about Thune's absence for months, many have concluded he is leaning against a run. While Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin pretend it's too early to decide, they lead the polls and dominate headlines. In a recent New Hampshire straw poll of GOP insiders Thune finished dead last.
At the end of last year Thune's senate and political action committee coffers contained about $8 million dollars.
Not unrespectable for a first term senator. But that is a far cry from the $100 million many believe must be raised in the next eight months to vy credibly for the republican nomination and the presidency. Republicans have a special place in their hearts for Thune, who ousted former democratic senate majority leader Tom Daschle in 2004.
But Thune has not signaled to big money and shot-calling Republicans that he will be counting on them, nor have they volunteered much unsolicited encouragement.
Smart, conservative, likable, handsome, tall, Thune has all the ingredients but has not added himself to the mix. Insiders say Thune is happy in the senate. He just turned 50 in January, an age that's perfect for a running mate and still leaves plenty of time to run again in the future.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is expected to announce his candidacy before the end of the month.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is all but in though he hopes to wait until his state legislative session ends.Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to launch his bid before the end of March.
And former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is likely to follow a similar timetable.
All of them have activists and volunteers already campaigning for them in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where the first southern primary takes place.
Thune has not officially turned down a 2012 run yet, but those who had joined his team for a White House bid to begin in the coming weeks have begun leaving, or making arrangements to move on.
At this point more than a few Thune insiders will be surprised if the gentleman from South Dakota does run.