Image: Fred Thompson with Jay Leno.
-  /  AFP - Getty Images
This video still shows former U.S. senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, left, appearing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in Burbank, California, on Tuesday.
By Producer
NBC News
updated 6/13/2007 1:18:36 AM ET 2007-06-13T05:18:36

There is no reason to hold your breath any longer. GOP presidential contender-in-waiting, Fred Thompson, didn't make it any clearer about when he will announce his run for the White House when he appeared Tuesday on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Asked by Leno if he'd like the nation's top job, the former Tennessee senator said, "I've never craved the job of president, but I want to do some things that only a president can do."

"So," Thompson added, "the answer is yes."

Thompson said that deciding to make the run for president takes a while. "It takes a long time when you have not been running for president since high school to turn that big battle ship around from a personal standpoint."

His focus for the time being, he said, is raising money. "Half a year is gone and I haven't had my first fund-raiser and I am in the middle of the pack."

But he told Leno that selling his image is not a problem, "I have been around for a while and people have a pretty good feel for who I am."

On his eight years in the U.S. Senate, he said, "I often say after eight years in Washington, I longed for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood."

And he said that he probably won't be picked up again by NBC, because of the opening skit on the talk show. He recently left the long-running show "Law and Order."

Leno opened the show by knocking on the backstage door of Thompson's dressing room, a door with his name on it, asking if he had any concerns.

Thompson responded, "I am really concerned about this huge disaster we see on television today."

Leno asks, "Health care?

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"No NBC," Thompson retorts, a jab at the performance of the network's entertainment division.

When asked about his scheduled appearance on the late-night talk show a few weeks ago at a GOP fundraiser in Richmond, Thompson told NBC, "I met him a long time ago, he's a great guy," referring to Leno.

But some were girded for some kind of surprise announcement from the now retired actor.

It was four years ago another actor turned politician made headlines with his unexpected announcement on the Tonight Show.

Nearly 9 million people tuned in to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger tell Leno, "The man who has failed the people more than anyone is Gray Davis. He has failed them terribly...this is why I'm going to run for governor."

Leno and the aura of the show were prominent as well at Schwarzenegger's victory party when he won the race for governor. ''Tonight is a testament to just how important one appearance on the 'Tonight Show' can be,'' said Leno before introducing the California governor to be at the celebration.

Thompson, the 64-year-old lawyer-turned-actor-turned-politician-turned actor, arrived in Burbank Tuesday night to tape the show with heady new poll results. A new Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll shows Thompson with 21 percent support, trailing only Rudy Giuliani, who has 27 percent. Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney run well behind. Thompson beats everyone among self-described conservatives, considered the base of the Republican Party.

“Thompson was able to resonate because the Republicans are not that thrilled with their candidates,'' said Susan Pinkus, the Los Angeles Times poll director.

Thompson, is tied with Giuliani in another poll. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds both Thompson and Giuliani earning support from 24% of likely Republican Primary voters. A week ago Giuliani had a six percentage point lead over Thompson, 23% to 17%.

Officially Thompson is still a "toes in the water" unofficial candidate. He told NBC, "This is a testing the waters phase, we will be talking to a lot of people, we'll be raising some money, we'll be putting together a staff in order to reach out to some more people. And test the level of support we have."

The actor, whose best known for playing New York district attorney Arthur Branch on NBC's "Law and Order" said, "We've not made a final decision on it, but obviously we're thinking pretty seriously about it, so we'll see a little bit later on where we're going to go."

Last week he told Fox News, "More and more I wish that I had the opportunity to do things only a president can do."

There is some speculation that Thompson is holding off his formal announcement to run for the GOP candidacy for president until July 4th in his home state of Tennessee.

Asked about Independence Day as the launch, Thompson said, "It doesn't mean that it won't be, but it certainly hasn't been decided that it will be."

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