Sen. John Thune has already spent more than $4.6 million on a re-election campaign that doesn’t have an opponent.
Unless, of course, the campaign he is running now is more about a potential presidential bid in 2012 than the foregone conclusion of his U.S. Senate re-election this fall.
Thune, R-S.D., is running unopposed for re-election to his second term, which will make him the first U.S. Senate candidate in state history to win the office without facing a challenger. Yet he is well ahead in campaign spending of both Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., and her Republican challenger, state Rep. Kristi Noem of Castlewood in the hotly contested U.S. House race.
Thune’s campaign spending is in part the reality of preparing to defend an elite, typically highly contested seat in the U.S. Senate. But there are other forces at work, as well. And they could involve a run for the White House.
“Obviously, this could be the start of a presidential exploratory effort,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “He has options there, and he’s going to leave his doors open.”