Election Day 2002 in South Dakota John Thune, who had previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, hoped for a victory that would make him a senator at the end of an arduous and highly competitive race against the incumbent, Sen. Tim Johnson (D). It was Thune’s first Senate race and he knew the vote tally would be close. Even the national media had pegged the race as “hot.” Satisfied with his record as a U.S. representative and feeling that he had given his best effort to the campaign, Thune was optimistic that South Dakota voters would send him to the Senate.
It was not to be. Thune’s optimism faded to disappointment when he came up a mere 500 votes short of victory.
Speaking at a Washington, D.C., event hosted by the Center for Christian Statesmanship, Thune recalled his struggle to overcome such a devastating defeat: “I felt like God had called me to run, and the defeat was difficult to understand.”
Looking back, Thune can now observe the spiritual growth that came from his Senate loss. While wryly suggesting that it was extremely successful at cultivating humility, he, in all seriousness, credited the events with altering his spiritual outlook.
“I realized that life isn’t just about winning the race. It’s about the journey,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s important to walk with Jesus on a day-to-day basis, to be a witness and to stand up for things that have eternal significance.”
After prayerful consideration, Thune decided to run again for the Senate in 2004, this time vying for the seat of Sen. Tom Daschle (D), an 18-year Senate veteran who was serving as Senate minority leader. Like the 2002 race, the 2004 campaign for South Dakota’s U.S. senator was one of the tightest, most closely watched political races in the nation. But the outcome would be quite different.
In a stunning victory, Thune defeated Daschle by approximately 4,000 votes.
The election of Sen. John Thune (R) over Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle marked the first time in 52 years that a Senate party leader lost his or her seat.
“Being in the Senate is an honor,” Sen. Thune said about his election to the nation’s highest legislative body. “Being one member of 100 gives me much more influence than being one in 435.” With this influence comes responsibility, says Thune, who believes his election to public office gives him the opportunity to address public policy from the perspective of faith, especially when dealing with issues of Biblical relevance.
“There are some issues that simply do not lend themselves to compromise. Irrespective of polls and public opinion, there are certain matters that are issues of conscience. If you are someone with a Christian worldview, there are certain things that are not negotiable. One of these, for example, is the right to life,” he says.
Thune believes his journey to Senate membership gives him the opportunity to be a light on Capitol Hill and to fulfill his God-given calling. “We need people of faith in every arena of life to accomplish His will in every sphere,” he said. “That includes the political arena.”
Thune’s speech was sponsored by the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship, which is an interdenominational, nonpartisan ministry to those serving on Capitol Hill. The Center seeks to restore a vision for Christian statesmanship among men and women in positions of influence and authority in government.
Jessica Anderson is a summer intern with Concerned Women for America.