McConnell's message to Thune: 'The country needs him in the Senate'
Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate, is mulling retiring rather than seek reelection in 2022
Longtime Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell is urging Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, one of his top allies in the chamber, to run for reelection next year.
"His party needs him in the Senate and the country needs him in the Senate," McConnell told Fox News when asked about Thune, who's mulling retirement after his current term ends.
"I hope that Sen. Thune will indeed after the holidays announce that he's going to run for reelection," the Senate minority leader and longtime lawmaker from Kentucky said in an interview Wednesday on Fox News' "America Reports."
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Thune, who as Senate minority whip is the number two ranking Republican in the chamber, is up for reelection next year. Thune is one of two GOP senators – along with Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin – who have yet to announce if he'll run in the 2022 midterm elections for another six-year term.
While giving no indication of which way he's leaning, Thune has told reporters on Capitol Hill that he'll make a decision by the end of the year.
But the 60-year-old Thune, who remains very popular in his home state of South Dakota and nears the end of his third-term (after serving six years in the House of Representatives) in the Senate, raised eyebrows earlier this month.
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The senator told a South Dakota reporter that his wife Kimberley wants him to return home.
"She is done with it," Thune said in an interview with the Black Hills Pioneer.
While McConnell's encouragement was public, other Republican senators have been privately urging Thune to stick around.
Republicans need a net gain of just one seat in the 2022 midterms to win back the majority in the chamber they lost when they were swept by the Democrats in the Jan. 5 twin Senate runoff elections in Georgia. And Thune would be one of the top contenders to succeed the 79-year-old McConnell whenever he's ready to step down as Senate GOP leader.
Thune earned the ire of former President Donald Trump late last year and early this year, for publicly speaking out against Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to now President Biden.
Trump briefly urged South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a close ally of the former president, to launch a primary challenge against Thune in 2022. But Noem dismissed any bid for Senate and is running next year for reelection as governor in the deeply red state.
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While Trump repeatedly criticizes and ridicules McConnell, he hasn't targeted Thune in months.
If Thune does run for reelection, he would face a primary challenge from first-time candidate Mark Mowry, who last spring launched a long-shot bid for the Senate seat.