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Posted at 2:50 PM ET, 02/11/2011

John Thune at CPAC

By Jennifer Rubin

Most conservatives have never heard Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) speak. What they heard at CPAC was an extremely engaging and fluid proponent of core Republican beliefs. He understands the benefit of self-deprecating humor, explaining that he doesn't have the name recognition that other Republicans enjoy. He told the crowd that he never had a book tour and goes to Iowa "on his way to South Dakota," a reminder that he has a bit of a home field advantage there. His funniest line of the speech: "The closest I've been to being on a reality show is C-SPAN's coverage of the Senate floor." (Noteworthy: his gentle jab at Sarah Palin went over very well with the crowd.)

Again using humor, he recalled that at the State of the Union address he sat with two Democratic colleagues. "It takes two Democrats to balance me out." He wove in an endearing story of his Norwegian grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. Using that as a jumping off point, he touched on social issues and values that Mitt Romney had entirely ignored. He said the immigrant experience taught him to "live within our means," help your neighbors and appreciate "family and the value of life."

Unlike Romney, he inveighed at length against Obamacare and endorsed the effort to defund the legislation if it can't be repealed. In the alternative, he suggested an easy opt-out for states. And he too made clear that he is an internationalist. (His exhortation to support Israel got sustained applause.)

His speech ran a bit long, but his message was music to conservative ears. He sure sounded like a presidential candidate. His race would make it tougher for Tim Pawlenty (another amiable Midwesterner). But he would also be yet another forceful antagonist ready to needle Romney on healthcare. I'm still not convinced Thune has a path to the nomination, but he did himself some good today.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 11, 2011; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
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Next: Tim Pawlenty at CPAC


If Thune could do well in Iowa, that would give him a path to the nomination. In a way, he's a presidential candidate from central casting -- he looks and sounds presidential, has no disqualifying weaknesses unlike most of the GOP field, and beat Tom Daschle which made him a Republican folk hero. In six years in office, he has earned a place in the Republican Senate leadership -- so he's not just an inexperienced empty suit like the incumbent was when he declared his candidacy. Thune can raise money and he can beat Obama.

Posted by: eoniii | February 11, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Having followed Thune's career since his 1996 defeat of Rick Weiland, I'm not surprised that he was so well received at CPAC. Whether he's meeting one-on-one with constituents or speaking to a gymnasium full of constituents, John sounds sincere because he is. It's not an act. He has a good team and a realistic chance at the nomination, especially in this crowded field.

Posted by: CharlesRobison | February 11, 2011 9:00 PM | Report abuse

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