Spokane, Washington (CNN) – A handful of key words stand out when chatting with Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, about the presidential bid he is considering: "commonsense conservative," "heartland values" and, of course, "Iowa."
Thune's home state shares a border with the Hawkeye State, the traditional kickoff to the presidential nominating process, and he clearly views his Midwestern roots as a serious asset if he decides to enter the race sometime next year.
"I am in the West and I like the West obviously," Thune told CNN while in eastern Washington campaigning with GOP Senate hopeful Dino Rossi. "It's a part of the country I am very comfortable in and states like mine and Iowa, which is next door, the constituency there is very much like mine, and they are people I am very comfortable having a conversation with."
Ever since his potential candidacy was first seriously floated in a September profile in The Weekly Standard titled "Dakota Dreaming," Thune has been far more candid than his potential rivals in discussing the likely shape of the Republican nominating contest.
Thune predicted "a very wide open" race on the GOP side and said he doesn't feel "any particular rush" to join the 2012 fray. His focus, he emphasized, is electing Republicans to the Senate in 2010.
Whether he takes the plunge early or waits to see how the rest of field shapes up, the handsome, 6-foot-5-inch native of Murdo, South Dakota - who also happens to be an evangelical Christian - seems to envision himself as a candidate who can appeal to primary voters of all stripes.
"I think what's going to be important is somebody who's going to deliver a message to people in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and other states around the country about what they would do to reign in out of control government spending, to try and create jobs in the economy, and put people back to work," Thune said, when asked what sort of space he fills in the 2012 field.
"I think those are going to be the issues continue to be the issues that people will care about, and they are very much heartland issues," he added.
Thune, who voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 but has since called himself one of the bill's "fiercest critics," chided President Obama for moving "aggressively to expand government in a way that we haven't seen since the 1960s."
He said he would offer a clear alternative.
"I think that we need a commonsense conservative who will I think lead this country in a direction that actually restores more freedom to the American people and gets away from this trend right now of expanded government," he said.