Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly urged his colleague and second-in-command, Sen. John Thune, to run for a fourth term Wednesday amid reports that the minority whip is considering retirement.
“John Thune is an outstanding senator,” McConnell (R-Ky.) told the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “He’s done a great job as a whip … It would be a real setback for the country and for our party if he retires, and I certainly hope he won’t.”
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Thune (R-SD), 60, is considering walking away from the Senate after next year’s midterms due to a combination of familial issues and the growing hold former President Donald Trump has on the GOP.
Thune and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) are the only Republican senators up for re-election next year who have yet to announce if they will contest their seat.
Last week, Thune told reporters he will inform them of his decision “in due time,” according to The Hill.
Earlier this month, Thune told the Black Hills Pioneer that his wife wants him to retire and avoid several more years of commuting to Washington, DC. Thune told the outlet that he would make a final decision by the end of this month.
Republicans are hoping to take back both houses of Congress next November. But while they are heavy favorites to overturn an eight-seat Democratic majority in the House, the Senate outlook is less clear.
So far, five Senate Republicans have announced their retirement from public office after 2022: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Roy Blunt of Missouri. Of those five, the Senate races in Pennsylvania and North Carolina are labeled “toss-ups” by the Cook Political Report, representing possible pick-up opportunities for Democrats.
On Wednesday, McConnell insisted that the GOP is “going to have the wind at our backs, and a good chance of getting the majority back” next year.
“I think we’re going to have a great cycle,” McConnell told Hewitt. “The atmosphere is terrible … This administration is in a deep hole, and Hugh, I have a hard time seeing how they get out of the hole by next November.”
Thune was first elected to the Senate in 2004 after serving three terms as South Dakota’s lone representative in the House. He won re-election to a third term in 2016, with 71.8 percent of the vote, outperforming Trump (61.5 percent) on the ballot.
In January, Trump urged South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem to challenge Thune for his seat, saying she would do a “fantastic job” in the Senate.
At the time, a spokesman for Noem told The Post she “has been very clear” that she won’t challenge Thune.
Last December, Trump labeled Thune a RINO — Republican in name only — after the senator said any challenge to the Electoral College results of the 2020 election would fail.
Thune brushed off the then-president’s criticism, telling Politico at the time: “Finally, an attack tweet. What took him so long? It’s fine, it’s the way he communicates. I’m not sure what I did to be deserving of all that.”
Several Republicans have joined McConnell in urging Thune to stay in the Senate, with Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) telling the New York Times he has let Thune know “how much I appreciate him.”
“He knows both Dakotas really need him,” Cramer told the outlet.