U.S. Sen. John Thune’s (R-S.D.) decision not to pursue a run for the White House is inspiring mixed reactions among LGBT groups who see him either as a potential friend or consistent enemy.
On Tuesday, the one-term U.S. senator announced in a statement that wouldn’t run for president in 2012 because he feels he can best serve the nation in his current position.
“There is a battle to be waged over what kind of country we are going to leave our children and grandchildren and that battle is happening now in Washington, not two years from now,” he said. “So at this time, I feel that I am best positioned to fight for America’s future here in the trenches of the United States Senate.”
Thune was among several Republicans who were widely in consideration to be at least considering a presidential bid. Other possible contenders include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
Patrick Egan, a gay government professor at New York University, said predicting how Thune’s exit would impact the bid for the Republican presidential nomination at this stage is difficult, but said he doesn’t think many pundits considered Thune a serious candidate.
“While he was somebody a lot of people were thinking about, I don’t think he was one of the heavy-weights who has generated a lot of buzz,” Egan said.
Egan added that as President Obama’s approval rating in polls continues to climb, many second-tier potential Republican candidates may have second thoughs about whether now is the time to pursue the White House.
“I’m sure that was among the calculations that Thune was making regarding 2012,” Egan said.
One Republican LGBT group cast Thune’s decision not to run for the presidency as a missed opportunity for the Republican Party because they say the U.S. senator hasn’t been completely closed off to moving forward on LGBT issues.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Thune has not completely precluded himself from working with the LGBT community.
“He is like a number of candidates for office in general who we would consider in development,” Cooper said. “Having a dialogue is always a good thing because people who might have voted one time against something related to the community can always come along and vote for it.”
Cooper noted that some Republicans in the Senate — such as Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and former Ohio Sen. George Voinovich — voted against repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when it was part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill before voting in favor of repeal when it came to the floor as a standalone measure.
“[Thune is] somebody we work with,” Cooper said. “He’s somebody we will be lobbying as long as he is serving his state, serving South Dakota and serving the United States.”
Still, Thune has a poor reputation for his voting record on LGBT issues as a U.S. senator. He’s consistently received a score of “0” from the Human Rights Campaign on the organization’s congressional score card.
In the last Congress, he voted against hate crimes protections legislation and consistently voted against measures to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In 2006, he voted in favor of a U.S. constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage throughout the country.
Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, said the American people “are better off” now that Thune has decided not to run.
“He has proven himself repeatedly to not have the slighest interest in equality and fairness for all Americans, including those who are LGBT,” Sainz said.
Sainz also criticized Thune for not following in the footsteps of the senator he replaced: one-time Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. While in the Senate, Daschle voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment and in favor of hate crimes protections legislation.
“[Thune] definitely does not live up to the legacy of Sen. Tom Daschle, who was a very able steward of equality issues for all Americans, and especially those that are LGBT,” Sainz said.