McConnell likes Thune as 'someone out of the blue' in 2012

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) only named one person when asked who he thinks might be the next Republican presidential nominee: Sen. John Thune (S.D.).

At a town-hall event in Kentucky Tuesday, McConnell said that the race is wide open and predicted that the presidential primary will be "very competitive," but said that Thune could be a dark horse nominee. 

“Who knows?" McConnell said, according to the Williamson Daily News. "For someone out of the blue, I like John Thune from South Dakota, but its [sic] wide open. It will be very competitive."

With no clear front-runner in the race and the presidential election far away, a number of national political figures have emerged as potential nominees.

McConnell's comments were not an official endorsement of Thune, but they could boost the first-term senator, who has quietly built up a national presence over the past six years.

Thune earned headlines in 2004 when he defeated former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Even though he is up for reelection this year, Thune does not face a Democratic challenger.

McConnell suggested he has no interest in running himself.

"I know I have the job I want, even though I would like to have a majority," he said.