Twelve in 2012 Scorecard – John Thune

Tonight on "Special Report w/Bret Baier," the sixth edition of the "Twelve in 2012" series.

Each night, Special Report will profile one of a dozen potential Republican presidential contenders. When it's all over, look for a documentary special that lays out the state of the 2012 race inside the GOP.

With every installment, Power Play will analyze the candidate's strengths, weaknesses and odds of success.

John Thune

Age: 49

Current Position: Senator from South Dakota (Elected 2004)

Previous experience: Congressman from South Dakota (1997 to 2003); director of the South Dakota Municipal League (1993 to 1996); state railroad director (1991 to 1993); executive director of the South Dakota GOP (1989 to 1991); Small Business Administration (1987 to 1989); legislative aide to Sen. James Abdnor (1985 to 1987)

Education: Undergraduate degree from Biola University (1983); Masters in Business Administration from the University of South Dakota (1984)

Family: Wife, Kimberly, two daughters

What you might not know:

Thune got his start in politics when he missed a free throw. Then Rep. James Abdnor saw Thune hit five of six free throws in a basketball game as a high school freshman. Thune recalls that after the game Abdnor approached him and said "I noticed you missed one." The teasing introduction led to a mentorship and eventually a career.

His Pitch: Cowboy Up

If John Thune doesn't get elected president, he may have to go to Hollywood to play one in the movies because casting directors could hardly pass him up.

And while Thune's looks (think of a tall Gary Cooper) have helped propel him forward in politics, the reasons he was a hot commodity in the 2008 vice presidential derby and a top-tier contender for 2012 are more about attitude and ideology.

Thune appealed to John McCain and party elders two years ago because he is a down-the-line conservative. Thune is a deficit hawk, a tax buster, a pro-life evangelical Christian, a gun rights proponent and a "peace through strength" kind of guy.

A Thune pick would have given McCain credibility with the Republican base, and that base is now increasingly taking notice of the junior senator from South Dakota. But he's had a place in their hearts since 2004 when he did what Sharron Angle could not do in 2010 - unseat a Democratic Senate majority leader with his defeat of Tom Daschle.

But there are lots of down the line conservatives who fancy themselves as presidential prospects, including several who are better known and better liked by the GOP base.

What makes Thune viable is that he is a very gentle man. He may be as strict in his conservative orthodoxy as some of his bomb-throwing counterparts, but he is kind and careful in his delivery. And that matters a great deal when seeking the nomination of a party often caricatured as cold-hearted and intolerant.

Plus, Thune's humble beginnings (the son of a librarian and a teacher) and small-town roots (hometown Murdo, S.D. has a population of 679) may help as Republicans continue to reach out to blue collar voters.

The Knocks: Thin Folder

John Thune may have more experience than Barack Obama (seven months Thune's junior) did when he ran for president, but almost all of Thune's experience is inside the government.

Thune has worked his way up in Washington and Pierre and is still remarkably young for a senator, but GOP voters long before the Tea Party movement have had a preference for candidates with resume highlights outside of government - especially in the military or business worlds.

That lack of resume diversity means Thune has to separate himself from the pack quickly. Otherwise, if he is campaigning for anything in 2012, it will be as someone's running mate.

Power Play's Odds on Nomination: 13 to 1