Sioux Falls, SD
The 2012 race for president gets off to an unofficial start this weekend with a Republican straw poll in New Hampshire.
The state holds the nation's first primary, which is more than a year from now. South Dakota Senator John Thune, who's considering a possible bid for the White House, doesn't expect to finish very high in Saturday's poll among the more nationally-known potential candidates. But Thune is getting closer to making a final decision about running.
Thune first expressed his interest publicly about running for president last September, but at the time, said he was more focused on helping Republicans in the midterm elections. Those elections have come and gone, but Thune says he's still not ready to make a final decision, though it could come within a couple of months.
Thune says any presidential ambitions he may be entertaining are on the back-burner as he travels South Dakota discussing the economy and the federal deficit.
"We're very focused on that right now. But obviously, I'm going to have to make a final decision here in the not-too-distant future," Thune said.
While Thune isn't setting any deadlines, he says a decision to run may come within 30 to 60 days.
"If you're going to be a candidate, you pretty much have to be getting out there, particularly for somebody like me who's not known. A lot of the candidates are well known," Thune said.
Thune is "getting out there." He has political appearances scheduled in the coming weeks in Minnesota, Missouri and Texas. But so far, nothing scheduled in the important early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
"When you decide once and for all you're going to do this, that's when you start getting into Iowa and New Hampshire," Thune said.
Thune says throwing a hat too soon into the ring carries plenty of political risks.
"Obviously, somebody gets out there early you become a target very early. I think that's why some of the potential candidates have not officially entered the race," Thune said.
But Thune says if he waits too long, he could lose valuable time gaining name recognition and setting himself apart from what could be a crowded field of Republican candidates.
Mitt Romney is considered the front-runner by a wide margin going into Saturday's New Hampshire straw poll, with Sarah Palin a distant second. Thune says such polls don't mean much at this early stage since they tend to skew toward the more high-profile candidates.