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Posted at 4:12 PM ET, 02/22/2011

Thune out, Pawlenty's gain?

By Jennifer Rubin

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced via Facebook that he won't be running for president. This is understandable for several reasons, the most important of which is that with the retirement of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Thune could well move up to the position of GOP whip in 2012. Moreover, his low name recognition and the need to raise huge sums (just to inform people of who he is) would have made for a difficult race.

Who stands to gain by his absence? Tim Pawlenty is the clearest winner. Thune, an Iowa neighbor with good credentials among Christian conservatives in the caucuses, would have competed with Pawlenty for many of the same voters. In essence, he was a potential competitor for the top "not Romney" spot. Without him, Pawlenty strengthens his image as the "conservative without baggage."

As I mentioned yesterday, the GOP field continues to shrink. At this point the only definite competitors for the Republican nomination are Mitt Romney and Pawlenty. The next most likely contenders would be Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Newt Gingrich, although neither is a shoe-in to run. Conventional wisdom has it that Romney benefits from a large field, in which the "not Romney" votes are divided among many opponents. Should the group of candidates turn out to be small, watch for religious voters and other key constituent groups, including Tea Partyers to move swiftly to find the candidate they conclude is the strongest, electable conservative. That isn't likely to be the man who pioneered the individual health-care mandate.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 22, 2011; 4:12 PM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
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I agree that Romney is going to have trouble because of RomneyCare, but I'm not convinced it's a deal breaker for him. The Tea Party and others want ObamaCare to be wiped off the books. These people don't particularly care what kind of health care we have here in MA. If Romney says forcefully enough that he's going to repeal ObamaCare, I think that may be good enough. That's the big prize. RomneyCare will be a minor misdemeanor for Romney's political career if he eventually puts a stake in the heart of ObamaCare.

Posted by: RitchieEmmons | February 22, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

"The next most likely contenders would be Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels"

not after today. mitchy is a rino squish.

Posted by: engdre | February 22, 2011 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Run, Sarah, run!

Posted by: J_B_A | February 22, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Senator Thune is very smart not to run in 2012. No matter who wins in 2012, be it President Obama or a Republican, the nation is almost surely going to be in a turmoil well into the next Presidential term. If the numerous government upheavels in the Middle East do not settle down in the next few months, the price of oil will be out of sight and high oil prices will force the recovery to stall or worse. Both parties probably will hold off on any meaningful entitlement reform until after the 2012 election, but the next President will have to take action.
Hopefully, many of these issues will be resolved by the 2016 election.

Posted by: ners1507 | February 22, 2011 6:12 PM | Report abuse

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