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South Dakota Senator John Thune on the stump for Jim Talent

Monday, October 16, 2006
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HH: Joined now in studio by Senator John Thune of the great state of South Dakota. Senator Thune, it’s always a pleasure to see you. You’re in Southern California, you’re out here shaking the trees for Jim Talent, who deserves to win. We were just talking about him. How’s the response going as you go out and make the case as a surrogate for Jim, who’s got to be in Missouri?

JT: There’s a lot of support for Jim out here, Hugh. People know that he’s a very good, principled, thoughtful legislator, and someone that I think people recognize a quality of this guy, and what he’s all about. And so there’s a lot of support for him, and I think people really want to see him win.

HH: Now he’s on Armed Services.

JT: Yes.

HH: You’re not on Armed Services…

JT: I am, I am.

HH: Oh, you are? You’re together?

JT: Yes.

HH: That is to me one of those committees which over the next four years, with North Korea in the background, with Iraq in the foreground, and Iran in between, people just can’t turn over to…who’s the ranking Democrat? Is it Carl Levin?

JT: Yes, yeah.

HH: Against missile defense for pretty much his entire career. And that is, I think, a great contrast. Is that what brings people to Jim Talent’s side?

JT: I think it is, and I think it’s just a recognition that one, Jim Talent’s race, I see as a firewall. If we lose Missouri, it probably means we lose the Senate. And if people want…realize this is a race that makes a difference in who controls the Senate, they also recognize that Jim Talent is a very…is a good, principled conservative who is doing a great job representing his state, and does a good job representing the country. I mean, he’s somebody who’s very…on the Armed Services Committee, is very committed to winning the war on terror. He understands what the stakes are, and I think that’s why people not only in the state of Missouri, but around the country, are really rallying to his cause.

HH: Now Senator Thune, you’ve run five statewide campaigns, three for the House, one successful for the Senate, obviously, the marquee race two years ago, and then the very disappointing defeat to Tim Johnson four years ago. And obviously, there are emotional ebbs and flows. I was listening today. I actually feel pretty good, because of the consumer confidence, and the market’s up, and people vote their pocketbooks. But there’s a lot of kind of oh, geez, we can’t pull this around. You must have had days like that.

JT: Well, in a campaign, there are lots of ups and downs, and what you can’t do is become basically a hostage to what your overnight tracking says. I mean, you wake up every morning, and you get your polling numbers in from the night before, and if it takes a dip, you just have to keep…try and keep an even keel, and realize it’s a long campaign, and there are going to be ups and downs, but that what you have to do is go out and try and win every day. You want to win in the end, but the win in the end, you’ve got to go out and win the battle of the day. And so, campaigns are a lot…about a lot of small victories, and sometimes, some small disappointments. But you just try and maintain an even keel. But it’s hard. This point in a campaign is really hard as a candidate.

HH: Especially when you’ve got ads like this one. Generalissimo, when we’ve got the ad from Missori that ran today. It’s already been taken down by the McCaskill campaign, because they could not authenticate it, and television station NBC of Kansas City went after it. And when they could not find the person who speaks, and McCaskill could not explain it, they took it down. But here’s the ad, and we’ll get Senator Thune to comment on it.

McCaskill ad: I returned from Iraq with a busted ankle, and post-traumatic stress. It was six months before I could see a doctor. We joined up thinking we were promised these rights, these benefits, and they broke that promise. Politicians like Jim Talent don’t have to wait six months for a doctor’s appointment. Why should a veteran like me?

Announcer: Jim Talent – 23 votes against veterans benefits.

Claire McCaskill: I’m Claire McCaskill, and I approved this message.

HH: Now Senator Thune, Representative Jack Jackson of Wilderwood, Jim Avery of Crestwood, et cetera, have gathered in Missouri, blasting McCaskill as a new low in a campaign already marked by a lot of dishonesty. Doesn’t that hurt her?

JT: Well, I think it does, and I think, Hugh, it’s an act of desperation. I think they’re seeing some slippage in their polling there, and they’re trying…but that is a…pulling something like that out, particularly when they can’t authenticate it, it’s really stooping to a new level in a campaign.

HH: At Hughhewitt.com, America, if you want to help Jim Talent, I’ve linked to the Jim Talent re-election campaign. That’s an expensive race, John Thune. You’ve raised a lot of money yourself, but this one has got media markets in Kansas City and St. Louis. Those are two tough media markets to buy into.

JT: Very expensive race. Jim could use a lot of support right now. He’s got to continue to fund this media message, so he can respond to trashy ads like this one between now and November the 7th.

HH: Now let me ask you as a veteran of these campaigns. I watched the Santorum-Casey debate last night, Eyebrow Bob Casey. I’ll tell you, they’ve got to do something about those eyebrows. And I watched the Corker-Ford debate two nights ago, and had Bob Corker on yesterday. And I watched the Burns-Tester race on You Tube. These are unlike anything…these people are going at each other hammer and tong. Now I know you and Daschle danced a few dances, but is this unusual, in your experience, for…and what does it reflect about the stakes in this campaign?

JT: Well, I think that it’s a very toxic atmosphere out there right now, and because the Democrats are so desperate to win either the House and/or the Senate that they’re pulling out all the stops. And I think the nature of the attacks this time around is unlike, probably, what it’s been in previous election cycles, and I think it’s a reflection that the margins are very narrow, the fight for control is very intense, and the stakes are very high.

HH: Now I last saw you in Minnesota at the state fair for Mark Kennedy. Here you are out in Southern California for Jim Talent. And I know you’ve been in Tennessee. I know you’ve been all over the place, New Jersey, Tom Kean. Are all of your colleagues doing this? Or is this the younger people who’ve decided that the Senate majority’s worth having?

JT: Well, I think…I don’t know that all of them are doing it, but I know quite a few people who are getting out and about. I had four of my freshmen colleagues with me the day before yesterday in Minnesota, and then Wednesday in Michigan, it was Coburn, Burr, DeMint and Vitter and I went out on behalf of Mark Kennedy in Minnesota, and Mike Bouchard in Michigan. But I just think that we all realize that if we want to change that place, and we’ve got some good, new people who’ve come in. We’re about getting results, we’re about making a difference. And we need more people like that. And some of the people who are incumbents that are running this time are just really good quality people, and then we’ve got some great challengers. And so, we want to do everything we can to make it possible for our candidates to get across the finish line, and help us change the complexion of the United States Senate for the better.

HH: We’ve got about a minute to our break. I was in Pennsylvania and Ohio…next week with Senator Santorum and DeWine on various parts of the program. Tough environments, blue collar states, the economy is good, but not great like it is in some other places. They’re colleagues of yours in the senior body. Have they got the energy that they need to do this for 25 more days?

JT: These guys are tough. I mean, you know Santorum. He is…he’s relentless, and I wouldn’t count Rick out, because he’s a fast closer. I saw the Meet The Press debate with Casey, and I thought that Rick was superb, whereas Casey isn’t taking positions. They’re all trying to run the clock out, trying to appeal to everybody, and that’s where the Democrats just think that this year, they don’t have to be for something. They just have to be against Republican, against the President.

– – – –

HH: Senator, you’re on Armed Services, you’ve been to Iraq, you know…you’ve been to Afghanistan. You know all this stuff. The North Korea issue ought to be the number one issue, not who’s resigned on what day from the House, and not who’s land deals are under scrutiny. North Korea’s a big deal. Does Washington, D.C. get it? I mean, is there a sense of urgency to this issue?

JT: There doesn’t seem to be the sense of urgency, at least, in the minds of…the mainstream media seems more interested in Mark Foley and subjects like that. But this is a very high stakes showdown. And North Korea, obviously, is not only trying to make noise and get attention, but if they have the capability that we think they now do, it’s very scary to have that in the hands of a lunatic dictator.

HH: And the prime minister of Japan announced very stiff economic sanctions. No more ships from North Korea. This will impact North Korea almost immediately. Have you seen reports about Kim Jong Il’s health and his stability? Not just sort of his recklessness, but actually his time left in his mortal coils?

JT: Well, I haven’t seen that. I do think…there are serious questions, of course, about his mental stability and all that, but I think the fact that Japan and China and South Korea, and the countries in the neighborhood have finally realized that they need to be engaged. And the statements they’re making, and the steps that they’re taking, for the first time, maybe now we have an opportunity to really tighten the noose around this guy.

HH: Last question before you go off and do the good work of helping out Republicans across the country, John Thune. The country’s stretched in Iraq. We’ve got a new crisis in North Korea. We’ve got 22,000 troops in Afghanistan. Is the Army big enough? I’ll put it more broadly. Is the military big enough in this country?

JT: Well, I think that…I believe it is for the demands that we face today. Obviously, we’re not talking about going in on the ground in North Korea, although I think that in terms of options, we need to keep all options on the table. We have to protect the American people. And if we have any country, a rogue nation that has a nuclear capability, then we have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to keep America safe. But I think that the Democrats are making a big deal out of if we weren’t nailed down in Iraq, we would be…but the President rightly identified the axis of evil: North Korea, Iran and Iraq. And we have different approaches with each of those countries right now, but I’ve been so impressed with the American military and what they can do, and the dedication of the men and women who serve there, and in our commanders. I think that we’re up to whatever task they put in front of our military.

HH: And so no need to go from ten to twelve or fourteen divisions, or anything like that?

JT: Well, I don’t think…I mean, I would trust the judgment of our military leadership when it comes to that. But I do think that we have to be prepared. And if it takes that down the road, then whatever it takes.

HH: John Thune, always a pleasure. Thanks for getting out there for other candidates. It’s easier to stay home, but you’re not, and we appreciate that. We’ll talk to you the next time through Southern California. Perhaps we’ll see you in…who knows, the state fair somewhere.

JT: (laughing)

End of interview.

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