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John Thune
John Thune 117th Congress portrait.jpg
Official portrait, 2020
Senate Minority Whip
Assumed office
January 20, 2021
Leader Mitch McConnell
Preceded by Dick Durbin
Senate Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 2019 – January 20, 2021
Leader Mitch McConnell
Preceded by John Cornyn
Succeeded by Dick Durbin
United States Senator
from South Dakota
Assumed office
January 3, 2005
Serving with Mike Rounds
Preceded by Tom Daschle
Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee
In office
January 3, 2015 – January 3, 2019
Leader Mitch McConnell
Preceded by Jay Rockefeller
Succeeded by Roger Wicker
Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
In office
January 26, 2012 – January 3, 2019
Preceded by Lamar Alexander
Succeeded by John Barrasso
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Dakota's at-large district
In office
January 3, 1997 – January 3, 2003
Preceded by Tim Johnson
Succeeded by Bill Janklow
Personal details
John Randolph Thune

(1961-01-07) January 7, 1961 (age 62)
Pierre, South Dakota, U.S.
Political party Republican
Kimberley Weems
(m. 1984)
Children 2
Education Biola University (BA)
University of South Dakota (MBA)

John Randolph Thune (/ˈθn/ thoon; born January 7, 1961) is an American politician and businessman serving as the senior United States senator from South Dakota, a seat to which he was first elected in 2004. A member of the Republican Party, he is in his third Senate term, and serves as Senate minority whip.

Thune has worked in politics and civic organizations since completing his MBA degree. He was a three-term congressman, serving as the representative for SD's At-large congressional district from 1997 to 2003. Thune is known for his defeat of sitting Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004. In the U.S. Senate, Thune served as the Republican chief deputy whip from 2007 to 2009 and as chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee from 2009 to 2012. He served as the Senate Republican Conference chair, the third-ranking position in the Senate, from 2012 to 2019.

The Senate Republican Conference selected Thune as majority whip for the 116th Congress; he succeeded Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who was term-limited in the position. In 2020, he was chosen as minority whip for the 117th Congress.

U.S. House of Representatives (1997–2003)


Thune began his political career in 1996 by entering the race for South Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Almanac of American Politics said that Thune "entered the 1996 race as very much an underdog." His opponent in the Republican primary was sitting Lieutenant Governor Carole Hillard of Rapid City, who benefited from the support of the longtime South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow. A May 1996 poll showed Hillard leading Thune by a margin of 69%-15%. By relying on strong personal skills and the help of his old network of Abdnor friends, Thune won the primary, defeating Hillard 59%-41%. In the general election, Thune defeated Democrat Rick Weiland, a long-serving aide to U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, 58%-37%.

Thune won his subsequent races for U.S. House by wide margins. He was reelected in 1998 with 75% of the vote and in 2000 with 73% of the vote. In 2002, after briefly considering a run for governor, Thune set his sights on a run for the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Senate (2005–present)

John Thune, official portrait, 111th Congress
Thune in 2010 (111th Congress)



In 2002, Thune challenged incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Johnson. Thune lost by only 524 votes (0.15%). One study concluded: "While the margin of victory [for Johnson] was a mere 524 votes, getting into that winning position required a number of important factors, including Native American turnout, the ability of Johnson and his allies to more effectively use the ground war to get their message out, Thune's ineffectiveness on the air and lack of experience in winning competitive elections, low voter turnout in key Republican counties, the drought, and finally the presence of Kurt Evans. Evans, a Libertarian candidate who withdrew from the race, endorsed Thune, but remained on the ballot and siphoned away more votes from Thune than Johnson. Evans received only 3,070 votes, but that ended up being six times greater than the margin of victory." Despite the close results, Thune did not contest the election.


In 2004 Thune challenged Tom Daschle, the United States Senate Minority Leader and leader of the Senate Democrats. In early 2003, Daschle had unexpectedly decided not to run for president. CNN reported that the "announcement surprised even some of his closest aides, one of whom told CNN plans were being made for Daschle to announce his candidacy Saturday in his hometown of Aberdeen, South Dakota."

The 2004 U.S. Senate race in South Dakota was the most expensive Senate race that year, with a total of $30 million spent, and the most expensive race in South Dakota history. It was widely followed in the national media. Thune, along with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, President George W. Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney, described Daschle as the "chief obstructionist" of Bush's agenda: "Thune was able to criticize 'Daschle for serving incompatible masters' and portray him, as Frist did when he came to South Dakota to campaign for Thune, as a partisan obstructionist and political heir to liberal icon and former Senator George McGovern of South Dakota."

Daschle's critics charged the Democrat with using filibusters to block confirmation of several of Bush's nominees to the federal judiciary and of being out of step with South Dakota voters on other political and social issues: "The GOP had targeted Daschle, the Senate minority leader, claiming he had been the chief obstruction to President Bush on such issues as tax cuts, judicial nominees and the war in Iraq."

On November 2, 2004, Thune defeated Daschle by 4,508 votes, winning 51% of the vote. Daschle's loss was the first ousting of an incumbent floor leader since 1952, when Arizona Senator Ernest McFarland lost to Barry Goldwater. The loss made Daschle "the first Senate party leader in more than five decades to be voted out of office".

South Dakota native Tom Brokaw commented that Thune "ran a very strong campaign" to win the 2004 race. University of South Dakota political scientist Bill Richardson said, "motivated John Thune supporters went to the polls in large numbers, part of a massive South Dakota turnout. Unofficial results show nearly 80 percent of registered voters cast ballots."

After Thune defeated Daschle, many Republicans regarded him as a "rising star with unlimited political potential."


Thune was re-elected 2010 without any opposition in either the primary or general elections. Scott Heidepriem, the South Dakota Senate Minority Leader and a Democratic candidate for Governor of South Dakota, said, "We just concluded that John Thune is an extremely popular senator who is going to win another term in the Senate." The conservative publication Townhall commented that the absence of a Democratic candidate in the election marked "the first time in the state's modern history in which a major party has failed to field a Senate candidate."


In 2016 Thune faced Democratic candidate Jay Williams, Chair of the Yankton County Democratic Party. On November 8, 2016, Thune defeated Williams, winning 71.8% of the vote.


Thune "drew the wrath of Donald Trump for pushing back on the former president's false claims" that he won the 2020 presidential election. Trump called upon South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem to primary Thune in the 2022 U.S. Senate election in South Dakota; Noem declined. Thune also received negative feedback from Trump supporters for his position on the 2020 election.

While Thune seriously considered retiring from the Senate, he announced in January 2022 that he would seek reelection to a fourth term.


On December 6, 2006, Thune was chosen by Senate Republican Whip Trent Lott to be the GOP's Chief Deputy Whip. After briefly serving as Republican Conference Vice-Chairman, Thune became chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in June 2009. The post was the fourth-ranking position in the Senate.

In March 2009, Thune was one of 14 senators to vote against a procedural move that essentially guaranteed a major expansion of a national service corps. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would cost at least $418 million in the fiscal year 2010 and $5.7 billion from 2010 to 2014.

He was elected Republican Conference Chairman in 2011, taking office in January 2012. The Conference Chairman is the third-ranking position in the US Senate. In late 2011, the Mitchell Daily Republic reported that "Thune's elevation to the No. 3 spot makes him the highest-ranking Republican senator in South Dakota history. Thune has served as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee from 2009 until the present time and was vice chairman of the Republican Conference from 2008 to 2009 and the Republican chief deputy whip from 2006 to 2008."

Thune's emergence as a conservative voice in the Senate gained him a lengthy profile in the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard. The American Conservative Union gave Senator Thune a rating of 100 in 2006 and again in 2010. As of 2020 Thune's lifetime ACU rating was 84.11. Thune was praised in a 2010 Weekly Standard profile as an exceptional politician who was, unlike many of his colleagues, able to communicate traditional conservatism, making him a popular alternative to Tea Party representatives.

In June 2018, Thune called on Special Counsel Robert Mueller to "start winding" down his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Thune is South Dakota's senior U.S. senator. The Senate Republican Conference selected Thune as majority whip for the 116th Congress, succeeding John Cornyn, who was term-limited in the position. He serves as minority whip in the 117th Congress.

Committee assignments

  • Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
    • Subcommittee on Rural Revitalization, Conservation, Forestry and Credit
    • Subcommittee on Energy, Science and Technology
    • Subcommittee on Production, Income Protection and Price Support
  • Committee on Finance
    • United States Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness
  • Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (Chair)
    • Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
    • Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet
    • Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and Export Promotion
    • Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance
    • Subcommittee on Science and Space
    • Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security
  • Committee on Budget

Caucus membership

  • Afterschool Caucuses

Presidential and vice-presidential speculation

Prior to the selection of Sarah Palin, Thune was mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Republican nominee John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Thune publicly played down the speculation.

Significant speculation arose regarding a potential 2012 presidential bid by Thune. He was encouraged to run by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who called him "a consensus builder." One Wall Street Journal article stated that Thune had "name ID in the parts of the first caucus state of Iowa that get neighboring South Dakota media, a $6.9 million bank account he could use for a presidential run, and a national fundraising list of 100,000 names from his race against [former Senator Tom] Daschle." DNC Executive Director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon publicly stated that "among a field of generally flawed (in one way or another) Republican presidential candidates, Thune was the one candidate that she feared. According to multiple commentators, Thune's candidacy could be helped by his personal appearance. On February 22, 2011, Thune announced he would not run in 2012.

During the summer of 2012, the USA Today reported that Thune was on Mitt Romney's short list as a potential running mate, but Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan was selected instead.

Despite some speculation, Thune declined to seek the White House in 2016, stating that his "window...might have closed in 2012."

Electoral history

South Dakota's at-large Congressional district Republican primary election, 1996
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican CheckedJohn R. Thune 41,322 59.49
Republican Carole Hillard 28,139 40.51
South Dakota's At-large congressional district: Results 1996–2000
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1996 Rick Weiland 119,547 37% CheckedJohn R. Thune 186,393 58% Stacey L. Nelson Independent 10,397 3% Kurt Evans Independent 6,866 2%
1998 Jeff Moser 64,433 25% CheckedJohn R. Thune 194,157 75%
2000 Curt Hohn 78,321 25% CheckedJohn R. Thune 231,083 73% Brian Lerohl Libertarian 5,357 2%
Senate elections in South Dakota: Results 2002–2022
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
2002 CheckedTim Johnson 167,481 50% John R. Thune 166,949 49% Kurt Evans Libertarian 3,071 1%
2004 Tom Daschle 193,340 49% CheckedJohn R. Thune 197,848 51%
2010 CheckedJohn R. Thune 227,947 100%
2016 Jay Williams 104,140 28% CheckedJohn R. Thune 265,516 72%
2022 Brian Bengs John R. Thune
Sen. Thune swearing in reenactment
Thune and his wife Kimberley with Vice President Dick Cheney

Personal life

Thune is an evangelical Christian. He married Kimberley Weems of Doland, South Dakota in 1984. The Thunes have two daughters and several grandchildren.

Thune is physically active and has frequently competed in running events. A 2012 Runner's World Magazine feature called Thune "the fastest man in Congress since 2009."

Thune is a fan of the bands Styx, Journey, Boston, and the Doobie Brothers.

See also

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