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John Thune Bides Time on Leadership Bids

Updated: Sept. 14, 11:21 a.m.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.) is still keeping his options open on whether he will run for Republican Whip or for National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, and he doesn’t expect decide on which until after the elections.

“It’s going to be, in all likelihood, a post election type scenario, and things would have to happen fairly quickly then, but then that is usually what happens with these types of things,” Thune said today of his plans.

Thune said in May that he was eyeing both positions. But waiting to decide until after the elections will give him precious little time to mount an insurgent campaign for Whip against current NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), who has been in the race since shortly after current Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) announced his retirement last year. If Thune decides to challenge Cornyn, he will likely have only two weeks to campaign before the secret-ballot leadership elections are held.

Thune – who was elected Senate Republican Conference chairman in January after Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) stepped down from the post – said that Senate Republicans are primarily focused on winning the majority and have decided to leave potentially distracting leadership decisions until the post-election season.

Thune also may decide to run for a full term as Conference chairman.

“I think there is an understanding,” Thune said. “Right now we are doing every thing we can to keep our eye in the ball, which is to try to win the majority. So I think most of us … who have positions currently, or perhaps aspire to them, are just trying to do everything we can to help the team win.

“I think that our Conference has sort of adopted this view that there will be a time and a place for that,” the South Dakota Republican continued. “I think anybody who wants to, obviously having run a couple of times before, you sort of have your lists ready to go. So I don’t think it would be that hard to” ramp up.

“I think for the most part our colleagues appreciate the fact that right now there isn’t a lot of that politicking going on and that people are focused on making sure that the team succeeds,” Thune said.

The NRSC position might end up being the more attractive post for Thune, who is known to harbor national ambitions and who had been mentioned as a possible running mate for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Aides have said the NRSC chairman position may also be appealing next cycle because, as in the current cycle, there are fewer Republican seats to defend. In 2014, there will be 20 Democratic seats and only 13 Republican seats up for re-election.

Currently, Cornyn is the only candidate for the Whip post.

Republicans hold 47 votes in the Senate and if they win the majority, that could further boost Cornyn’s chances. After all, the NRSC chairman would be given much of the credit for electing more Republicans to the Senate.

Both Thune and Cornyn are reasonably well-liked in the GOP Conference. But Thune could be a formidable opponent, given that lawmakers already expect to at least gain seats, if not be competitive for the majority.