Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), shown at the Conservative Political Action Conference… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced Tuesday that he will not be a candidate for president in 2012, ending speculation surrounding the young South Dakotan.
The announcement leaves the field to challenge President Obama wide open, as other Republicans seen as potential candidates have been reluctant to launch formal campaigns as early as in past cycles. Several have promised decisions in the next three months, however.
In a statement, Thune and his wife thank supporters for their encouragement as they considered a potential candidacy. But he says he concluded that he is ultimately "best positioned to fight for America's future here in the trenches of the United States Senate."
"Make no mistake that during this period of fiscal crisis and economic uncertainty there is a fight for the future direction of America," he said. "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."
Thune was unopposed in his bid for a second Senate term in November and rose in the ranks of GOP leadership as chairman of the Policy Committee. He came to the Senate in 2004 -- the same time President Obama won his Illinois seat -- by defeating incumbent Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
With his relative youth and strong conservative credentials, the telegenic Republican was seen as a strong potential candidate for the party in 2012. But his speech at the recent CPAC gathering in Washington was seen as a hint he was unlikely to mount a campaign.
"I've never held a book signing. I've been to Iowa plenty of times, but it's usually on my way to South Dakota. And the closest I've come to being on a reality show is CSPAN's live coverage of the Senate floor," he said.
The retirement of Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, currently the Senate Republican whip, leaves Thune the option of further climbing in the Senate leadership.
The difficulty of challenging an incumbent president likely to raise as much as $1 billion is also a consideration Thune -- like other Republicans ? has been contemplating, and his announcement Tuesday does not preclude a 2016 presidential run, or accepting a spot as the vice presidential nominee next fall.