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Early dropouts in GOP presidential race 'more in line' with Sen. Thune

SCOTLAND -- U.S. Sen. John Thune is standing by the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, but Thune's political ideology aligns more with other candidates who were eliminated early in the race, he said.

Sen. John Thune shares a laugh with member of the Scotland Rotary Club Dick Behl during a stop on Thursday at the Recreation Bar in Scotland. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Sen. John Thune shares a laugh with member of the Scotland Rotary Club Dick Behl during a stop on Thursday at the Recreation Bar in Scotland. (Matt Gade/Republic)

SCOTLAND - U.S. Sen. John Thune is standing by the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, but Thune's political ideology aligns more with other candidates who were eliminated early in the race, he said.

After a meeting with the Scotland Rotary Club as part of a statewide tour of South Dakota, Thune offered some insight on his decision not to endorse a candidate during the primary season.

"There were some pretty good people who ended up getting knocked out early who were probably more in line with what I would have liked to have seen in terms of our nominee this year," Thune said Thursday.

Thune declined to name any of those candidates, but he acknowledged Trump won the nomination "fair and square."

Not only did Thune decline to endorse a candidate prior to South Dakota's primary election - even after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out of the race and left Trump as the final remaining candidate - he also did not attend last week's Republican National Convention despite his role as the third-ranking Republican in the Senate.

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Thune said he intends to follow through with his prior statements to support his party's nominee, but he mentioned two reasons why he decided to stay out of the nominating process.

"I initially was trying to let it run its course, and let the process play out and see who we ended up with, but there was a good, strong field, I thought," Thune said. "...And part of it too was I had several colleagues running, so you didn't want to take sides with three or four senators in that race to start with."

Along with Cruz, U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham all found themselves among the GOP field. But Thune said Thursday he will maintain his support of the Republican nominee.

"What he says and how he says it are not things that I would agree with, but again, as I pointed out in here, the choice is going to be really clear," Thune said immediately following his speech to the Scotland Rotary Club at the Recreation Bar.

During the meeting with the Rotary Club, Thune focused more on his personal record as a two-term U.S. Senator than the 2016 presidential race. Facing an opponent in a senate race for the first time in 12 years in Yankton Democrat Jay Williams, Thune highlighted some of the priorities he will have if re-elected for a third term.

The two key areas of improvement for Thune are economic growth and national security. Thune said the Senate has worked to reduce Americans' exposure to terrorist attacks, and he's hoping to boost the the economy through job growth and higher wages.

"The economy is very sluggish and what we need to be doing in Washington, in my view, is looking at policies that we can put in place that will create the conditions that are favorable to economic growth," Thune said.

But one of the 17 people in attendance Tuesday, Scotland Rotary Club President Greg Gemar, asked Thune why there is so much gridlock on Capitol Hill.

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"Everybody's worried about who's getting credit, and nobody's worried about getting things done," Gemar said.

In response, Thune pointed to the successful passage of bills as chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, where he helped pass a series of freight rail reforms and a bipartisan aviation bill, which included reforms to enhance airport security.

Thune said he was able to push these bills through Congress by keeping the legislative process open for members of both political parties.

"We've tried really hard to make sure people have buy-in and everybody has an opportunity to be heard," Thune said. "And as a consequence of that, we have a record of getting things across the finish line and actually getting them enacted into law."

But if Thune wants to continue pushing forward his legislative agenda, he will have to defeat Williams in November's election.

Williams has called for Thune to debate at this year's DakotaFest in Mitchell, where Thune will take part in a forum alongside fellow U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, but Thune isn't giving in to Williams' request just yet.

"We're not going to - obviously - react to anybody else's timing or agenda," Thune said. "But we haven't really had conversations about it yet, and I think it's pretty early yet."

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Sen. John Thune shares a laugh with members of the Scotland Rotrary Club including Greg Gemar, from left, Dick Behl and Jerry Nelson during a stop on Thursday at the Recreation Bar in Scotland. (Matt Gade/Republic)
Sen. John Thune shares a laugh with members of the Scotland Rotrary Club including Greg Gemar, from left, Dick Behl and Jerry Nelson during a stop on Thursday at the Recreation Bar in Scotland. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Related Topics: JOHN THUNEELECTION 2016
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