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Thune hot on SD business climate, cool on candidacy by state Sen. Rhoden

South Dakota's ranking as the nation's top business state came as no surprise to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. Thune opened his regular conference call with reporters on Wednesday by hailing the top ranking in a CNBC survey.

"It's obviously very good news for our state but not a surprise for those who have wisely chosen to do business within our borders," Thune said. "South Dakota has strong leadership, good fiscal management, conditions that are favorable to economic growth and job creation. We should be very, very proud of that designation, and hopefully it's one that will continue to attract jobs and opportunity to South Dakota that will improve the take-home pay for people in our state."

Also during the call, Thune answered questions about the entrance of state Sen. Larry Rhoden, of Union Center, into the 2014 U.S. Senate primary. Rhoden will run against former Gov. Mike Rounds.

While Thune said he neither encourages nor discourages candidates who seek his advice, he sees a challenging path for the state lawmaker.

"It's a free country. People who decide to run for office -- that's a personal, individual decision. People who feel compelled to run for office obviously have that option available to them," Thune said.

"Larry is a friend, and I wish him the best."

Thune said he has talked with Rhoden and other unnamed candidates who are pondering a run in 2014.

"I try to spell out to them what I think are very realistic challenges and opportunities. I try to be very realistic, very honest, very straightforward with candidates."

Thune said his primary concern is not damaging the Republican Party's chance to pick up the seat now held by retiring Sen. Tim Johnson.

A contentious primary battle could damage the party's general election candidate, but Thune did not say he thinks the Rhoden candidacy will create that problem.

"I just want to make sure we are in a position where we can maximize the opportunity we have in 2014 to win that Senate seat and to retain the House seat. That would really start to change the direction in South Dakota and have an impact on the national political scene," Thune said. "Every seat we can pick up gives us a better opportunity to obtain a majority in the Senate."

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., has announced she will run again for South Dakota's House seat in 2014, rather than challenge Rounds.

Democrat Rick Weiland is the only member of his party to announce a bid for the Senate seat.