Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSmall ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Watch: GOP leaders discuss Biden's first year in office MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican and a close ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team McConnell says he made 'inadvertent omission' in voting remarks amid backlash These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Ky.), on Saturday announced he will run for reelection in 2022.   

In a statement posted to Twitter, Thune said he is “uniquely positioned” to serve South Dakota and be “a strong and effective senator who can deliver the results they expect."

"I look forward to earning the support of all South Dakotans in the 2022 election for Senate," he continued. 

Thune’s decision, which he had held off announcing after going past his end-of-year timeline, will likely bring a sigh of relief to Senate Republicans, who had grown increasingly alarmed that the 61-year-old senator would retire after 2022. 

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“I’ve always promised that I would do the work, even when it was hard, uncomfortable, or unpopular,” Thune said in the statement. “That work continues, which is why after careful consideration and prayer, and with the support of my family, I’m asking South Dakotans for the opportunity to continue serving them in the U.S. Senate.”

It’s also a boost to McConnell, who has seen a number of his closest allies exit the Senate in recent cycles.

McConnell — who will lose two members of his leadership team after 2022 to retirement — publicly urged Thune to run for reelection in a recent interview, warning that stepping down “would be a real setback from the country and our party.” 

Thune is viewed as a potential successor to McConnell, who will turn 80 in February, and the South Dakota senator acknowledged the potential that he could become GOP leader impacted his thinking on whether to retire.

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McConnell has given no public indication that he intends to retire anytime soon, but in addition to Thune, Sens. John CornynJohn CornynSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (Texas), the former GOP whip, and Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoWatch: GOP leaders discuss Biden's first year in office McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection MORE (R-Wyo.) are also viewed as jockeying for the top spot. 

With Thune’s announcement, Senate Republicans are just waiting to hear from one member — GOP Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSunday shows - Russia standoff over Ukraine dominates Ron Johnson: 'Americans are not looking for election reform' Democrats torn over pushing stolen-election narrative MORE (Wis.), who had previously pledged to retire after 2022 but has sounded increasingly likely to run again. 

Thune has kept a tight lid on his thinking about his own reelection bid for months, despite routine peppering by reporters about whether he was running again in 2022. 

Though GOP senators expressed confidence earlier this year that he would run, Thune set off alarm bells within the caucus when he told a South Dakota publication that his wife was ready for him to call it quits. 

Thune joined the House of Representatives in 1997 and, after an initial Senate bid in 2002, sent a lightning bolt through Washington when he defeated then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004 in what was the most expensive race of the cycle. 

But over the past year he’s also found himself at odds with former President TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE because of the former president’s push for GOP lawmakers to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which Trump and some of his closest allies have falsely claimed was “rigged” or “stolen.”

Thune warned that a long-shot effort to throw out the Electoral College results in Congress would go down like a “shot dog.”  

The remarks sparked Trump’s ire and the former president fired back that Thune was “Mitch’s boy.” Trump tried to convince South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Pence to deliver keynote at fundraising banquet for South Carolina-based pregnancy center Trump by the numbers: 2024 isn't simple MORE (R) to challenge Thune in a primary but she declined and is running for reelection to the state’s top office. 

While Trump has seemingly moved on from Thune, he’s kept up a long-running, largely one-sided, feud with McConnell. Trump is flirting with running again in 2024 and continues to maintain a fierce grip on the party. Even out of office he has caused headaches for Senate GOP leadership by weighing into fights over the infrastructure bill and the debt ceiling.  

But despite Trump’s previous anger, Thune appears likely to win reelection and has $14,839,846.75 cash on hand in his campaign account as of the last fundraising quarter. 

Senate Republicans, who are close allies of the former president, urged Thune to run and not to worry about a Trump-field primary challenge. 

"He likes winners and John Thune is a winner," Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties Biden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE (R-N.D.)  told The New York Times

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Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who chairs the Senate GOP campaign arm, quickly formally endorsed Thune on Saturday, saying in a statement that "South Dakotans are lucky to have a conservative fighter like John Thune working for them in the Senate.”

Republicans are defending 20 seats during the 2022 midterm elections, including five open seats where Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence MORE (R-Mo.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Biden calls Intel's B investment to build chip factories a tool for economic recovery MORE (R-Ohio), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Pelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress Momentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks MORE (R-N.C.), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyConservatives are outraged that Sarah Bloom Raskin actually believes in capitalism Meet Washington's most ineffective senator: Joe Manchin Black women look to build upon gains in coming elections MORE (R-Pa.) and Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Negotiators report progress toward 2022 spending deal Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence MORE (R-Ala.) are retiring. 

But they are feeling increasingly confident about their chances of winning back the Senate, where they only need a net pickup of one seat to get the majority. The Cook Political Report has ranked six races “toss-ups”: Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, which are each currently held by Democrats, and North Carolina, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which are currently held by Republicans. 

McConnell, during a recent interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, predicted that Republicans have a "great cycle" with a "good chance of getting the majority back." 

"The atmosphere is terrible [for Democrats]," he added. "I have a hard time seeing how they get out of the hole by next November."

Lexi Lonas contributed to this report.

Updated 1:39 p.m.