Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFrustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Senate passes anti-robocall bill MORE (R-S.D.) said Thursday that he will likely decide whether to run for president "early next year."

As rumors heightened this week that Thune will enter the 2012 presidential primary field, he shed more light on when he will decide for certain whether to run. 


"I think early next year probably would be more likely," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview to air Thursday evening.

Even though he has emphasized he has not made a final decision, Thune's comments this week have contained some of the most explicit hints that he seeks to enter the race.

He spoke in detail about his time frame, saying, "It's probably an advantage not to launch too early" because "these campaigns get very long" and "people get very weary of them."

"I think there will be a lot of — there will be a huge vacuum after the midterms and people will be rushing to fill it and you'll have a lot of candidates. And there could be a very big field," he said. "Like I said, I have not made any decisions about this. But my guess is that there will be a lot of folks who will be snapping up personnel in Iowa and New Hampshire and other places like that and taking very assertive steps in that direction. But I think that sometime next year is plenty early."

Thune said that all contenders in the potentially crowded 2012 GOP primary field will have their eyes on whether former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, decides to run.

"I think that if she were to get into the race, it would clearly change the equation for a lot of people," Thune said.

The South Dakota senator explained that Palin's popularity, specifically in early-primary states, could change the race.

"I think that she is someone who has a tremendous following out there, particularly in some of the early states," he said. "This is not a campaign where you start out and you run nationally right away. It's all sequence, and you have to get through certain states. She has a big following."

Thune assured that if "I were to decide to do it, I would go all out," saying that his own decision would not be predicated on Palin's presence in the field.