From msnbc.com's Carrie Dann and NBC's Mark Murray
In his speech at today's CPAC Republican cattle call, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota urged perseverance in the contest to oust President Obama from the White House, but his remarks offered mixed signals about whether he wants to try to take on the role of presidential contender himself.
Quoting his wife Kimberly, Thune said his family recognized after his first defeat for the Senate seat -- he later won in 2004 -- that "It's important to be in the arena," but offered no hints if that arena -- for Thune -- is the White House or the Senate.
He also poked fun at a few presidential contenders. He noted that he's mostly visited first-in-the-nation caucus state Iowa "on my way home to South Dakota." And in what could be construed as a shot at both Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, who made a splash at the conference yesterday, he joked that "the closest I've ever come to being on a reality TV show is C-SPAN's live coverage of the Senate floor."
Thune, the only member of Congress considered to be seriously mulling a run for the White House, could see a clearer path to ascend up the Senate leadership ladder after GOP whip Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) announced Thursday that he won't run for re-election. (Although Texas Sen. John Cornyn has also expressed interest in the job.)
The South Dakota lawmaker argued in his remarks that programs like Social Security and Medicare are desperately in need of reforms that would only be executed by Republican leadership in the White House.
"If we're going to solve our entitlement problem," he said, "we're going to need to solve our White House problem by electing a conservative in 2012."
But whether or not he thinks he could be the solution? We'll have to stay tuned.