THUNE TO SKIP 2012 PRESIDENTIAL RACE…. It was tough to read the tea-leaves on this one. Insiders seemed convinced, as of a couple of weeks ago, that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) would not run for president. All of a sudden, though, the conservative senator seemed to be working hard to get his name out — chatting with National Review and the Christian Broadcasting Network, appearing at CPAC, offering a rationale for his candidacy to the Washington Post, etc.

So, is he or isn’t he? Just a short while ago, Thune made it official: he’s not running.

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. So at this time, I feel that I am best positioned to fight for America’s future here in the trenches of the United States Senate.

Thune clearly has his champions in some GOP insider circles, but I’ve never been able to understand exactly why he was seen as a credible national candidate. He hasn’t tackled any noteworthy policy initiatives, he’s failed to distinguished himself as an expert in any area, and his most notable accomplishment appears to be an ability to impress people with his handsomeness.

More notably, it’s been far from clear which Republican constituency he would appeal to. Thune, during his brief tenure, has developed a reputation for loving pork-barrel projects for South Dakota (he’s twice won the “Porker of the Month” award from Citizens Against Government Waste), and championed the 2008 bailout that the GOP base considers poison.

If Thune had run, it was hard to imagine the circumstances that would have led to his nomination. Of course, as a relatively young man — Thune turned 50 last month — it’s likely this isn’t the last time we’ll hear his name as a possible presidential candidate.

In the larger context, there are two other angles to keep an eye on. The first is that it now appears likely that the 2012 race will be the first cycle in nearly four decades in which no sitting senators run for president.

The second is that the 2012 Republican field is still, as of now, effectively non-existent. Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana flirted with a presidential bid before bowing out, and now Thune has done the same. The GOP field is bound to materialize one of these days, but few expected to have zero announced candidates with 348 days to go before the Iowa caucuses.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.