Video: Fred Thompson moves closer to announcing '08 bid

By Chief White House correspondent and political director
NBC News
updated 5/30/2007 11:31:38 AM ET 2007-05-30T15:31:38

Enter Number Eleven?

Fred Thompson makes it (more) official. According to a campaign source, the former Tennessee senator and actor on NBC’s “Law & Order” will file his FEC papers officially on Monday June 4.

In FEC parlance, Thompson is opening a "testing the waters" committee, a technical term that allows Thompson to forgo filing a detailed report on June 30 – though once he's an official candidate, he'll have to file retroactively.

The June 4 filing will be coordinated with a first-day fundraising blitz with 100-plus "First Day Founders" raising a significant one-day sum in order to send a we're-in-the-first-tier message.

The campaign tells me the "first day" blitz totals they report will be "cash" actually raised, not pledges. The source didn't dispute the notion that the one-day goal would be north of seven figures.

As for his "why I'm running" announcement, it is set for sometime later this summer, in July.

A campaign source wouldn't confirm the public reports of a July 4 weekend date.

This source explained that nothing about the formal declaration is in stone because they want to see how fundraising goes in June.

Assuming the campaign raises, say, $5 million or more (a goal that seems to be within reach), then more formal steps will take place.

For now, the July 4 weekend announcement plan is more of an idea being bandied about by Thompson supporters.

His advantages
If there was ever a time for GOP candidate to come out of nowhere and compete for the nomination, it's now.

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According to the most recent NBC/WSJ poll, just 53% of Republicans are satisfied with their presidential choices (compared with 78% of Democrats who say they are).

In addition, as Business Week reported, there is plenty of uncommitted GOP Ranger/Pioneer money out there for Thompson to gobble up (many of whom were on a conference call yesterday with Thompson).

And what's not to like about a plainspoken Southerner who happens to be famous and who hasn't had ties to Washington or the Iraq war since he left Congress in 2002?

Remember, there is no top-notch southerner in the race (sorry Mike Huckabee) and the South is the geographic base of the GOP.

Other southern conservatives?
A year ago, the assumption was either Bill Frist of Tennessee or George Allen of Virginia would fill the Southern conservative vacuum.

With both Allen and Frist out, Thompson can now claim the Southern mantle.

South Carolina and Florida are looking like they will be the two most decisive primary contests for the GOP, giving Thompson a gigantic geographic advantage.

More importantly, the current frontrunners have had a hard time unifying the three wings of the GOP: social conservatives, economic conservatives and national security conservatives.

Thompson, as of now, is seen by some as best positioned to be the guy who can keep this conservative coalition together.

Like the rest of the three frontrunners, though, there are some positions Thompson has taken in the past (including supporting McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulation and abortion) that indicate Thompson may be just as muddy on some key conservative positions as Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

But Thompson hasn't been in the political fray since 2002 and so he hasn't retained the baggage the others have.

He didn't have to publicly support the war constantly, he didn't have to vote on immigration reform and he didn't have to vote on issues like Terri Schiavo.

His disadvantages
But how does Thompson make up on lost time in building the same kind of infrastructure that McCain and Romney have built in the early primary states?

Frist and Allen staffer refugees can account for some of the staff deficit but not all.

On the issues, how is he any different than the front-runners?

A recent Washington Post story said his record was virtually identical to McCain's.

And is he attracting GOPers' attention because of who he isn't – rather than who he is?

What, in short, makes him any different than Wes Clark was in 2003-4, sans the military medals?

Should McCain worry?
The timing of Thompson's entrance is not good for any of the front-runners who are all trying to make a big financial splash this final month of the 2nd quarter. Video: Thompson in '08?

However, the candidate who could be hurt the most is McCain, who has put the most pressure on himself to financially perform after a sub par 1st quarter.

As for Romney and Giuliani, if Thompson shows he's got the energy (and he beats back this growing media meme that he's a "lazy" campaigner, which won't be hard to do), then those two have to worry too.

Both Romney and Giuliani are trying to convince wayward conservatives and unaffiliated Bush donors to climb aboard one of their bandwagons.

Thompson's entrance allows these folks who have stayed on the sideline, to stay there longer.

It will slow down the fundraising for all three frontrunners.

In the first quarter, by our estimation, some $25 million in Bush '04 money didn't go to any GOP candidate. This is the base of money Thompson may start with.

According to two sources, of the 100+ people who were on Tuesday's conference call with Thompson, about 15-20 of them were the famed Bush "pioneers or rangers," fundraisers who raised Bush $100K-$250K in either '00 or '04.

Competing to win?
One other short-term casualty to Thompson's announcement – the significance of the Ames Straw Poll.

By getting in so late, with a little more than a month to plan for the event, I'm guessing Thompson will pass on competing to win. He may show up, and just do the minimum.

Giuliani apparently is leaning against competing to win.

What if McCain decides, you know what, Romney's just going to buy this straw poll, why give him any momentum, I'll sit out too.

And of course, the less significant the straw poll becomes, the more crushing it is to these slew of second tier candidates (Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback and Tommy Thompson) who were all pointing to a strong straw poll finish as a potential slingshot.

What about Gingrich?
Finally, keep an eye on Newt Gingrich.

Fred Thompson's entrance puts Gingrich's viability in question.

Don't be surprised if Gingrich decides to step up his chatter about running in an attempt to retain some key support he had waiting in the wings in Iowa and New Hampshire. This may prove to be VERY difficult.

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