Thune raising money, profile off Sotomayor nomination

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has launched a new website to attract conservatives looking for news on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Thune is not on the Senate Judiciary Committee but is up for reelection this cycle. He’s also mentioned as a possible contender for the 2012 presidential nomination, and weighing in on the Sotomayor nomination could go a long way in raising his national profile.

At first glance, the new site — SupremeCourtWatchOnline.com — looks like another attempt by conservatives to express their views on Sotomayor’s nomination. But it’s clearly Thune’s site: A disclaimer at the bottom of the page says it has been paid for by Friends of John Thune, which is his campaign committee, and a conspicuous “Donate” button gives viewers the opportunity to hand over cash.

The site is hardly the only effort Thune has made to harness conservative opposition to Sotomayor. He has met with conservative organizations, both on Capitol Hill and off, and is keeping in regular contact with the coalition of groups concerned with judicial nominations.

ADVERTISEMENT
“He was the very first senator to reach out to my group and have a meeting,” said the leader of one group that opposes Sotomayor. “Other [Senate] leadership was there, but he was clearly the one who organized it and was doing all the talking.”

Thune, the activist said, “is sort of going out of his way to get involved.”

Thune has used the issue of judicial nominations before. In his 2004 upset of then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D), Thune told some conservatives he thought judges “played a role in Daschle’s defeat,” said Wendy Long, legal counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network.

“He’s trying to take even more of a leadership role now,” Long added.

And though Thune’s campaign insists he is targeting his opposition to Sotomayor to a South Dakota audience, it does not discount the possibility that the website will generate national attention.

“It’s mainly intended to be a part of the campaign we started to revise and update Sen. Thune’s online presence and engage South Dakota voters in the campaign,” said Justin Brasell, Thune’s campaign manager. “We’re hoping, as the confirmation process heats up, this site might get some traffic and would be a good source for conservatives looking for news.

“This is the first of many single-issue sites” the campaign plans to launch, Brasell said.

It is not the first time Thune has tried to claim the spotlight on a contentious issue Republicans feel strongly about. He has introduced legislation seeking to block some aspects of cap-and-trade proposals, and, in 2007, offered a measure to block the so-called Fairness Doctrine.

Thune has also taken a leading role, as vice chairman of the Senate GOP conference, in meeting with opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The bill, also called “card-check,” has engendered strong opposition from the business community, with which Thune keeps in close touch.

The first-term Republican does not have to build a much deeper fundraising base for his reelection bid next year. Through the end of March, Thune had more than $4.3 million in the bank, and he still doesn’t have an opponent.

Democrats would love Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) to run against Thune, though that seems unlikely. State Sens. Nancy Turbak Berry (D) and Ben Nesselhuf (D) are mentioned as potential candidates, though neither would pose the challenge Sandlin would.

Instead, Thune may use his expanded base as a launching pad for his own national ambitions. He is just seven months older than President Obama, meaning he would be just 51 years old in 2012 and 55 in 2016.

Thune has already campaigned in Iowa, appearing with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a few days before the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

ADVERTISEMENT
“A lot of people think highly of him,” said Craig Shirley, the veteran GOP message man. “In a party pretty much bereft of leaders who actually think about things, Sen. Thune stands apart as a substantive individual, and as a result [he] is growing in stature. His future is bright.”

But the campaign insists Thune is focused on just one thing in the short run.

“Sen. Thune has watched a lot of his colleagues on the Republican side not return to the Senate in the past two cycles,” Brasell said. “He’s taking nothing for granted.”