[W]hile the official line is that he’s focused on South Dakota, aides and allies said that if, as expected, the March 30 candidate filing deadline passes and he does not have significant opposition, Thune may then start to take a more aggressive national posture by stumping for other Republican Senate candidates. Already a member of the Senate GOP leadership, he’s quietly begun seeking out conservative opinion leaders, and his staff is promoting his stepped-up media appearances.

Further, later in January, he’s going to report having more than $6 million in the bank — money that could be transferred to a presidential bid — and, thanks to the Daschle race, a 100,000-person-strong fundraising list. A Young Professionals event later this month in Washington is expected to draw a large crowd of up-and-coming lobbyists and operatives…

“No one seems particularly excited about the current prospective field,” said GOP strategist Mark McKinnon. “And everyone loves Thune.”