An Ol’ Broad’s Ramblings

May 31, 2007

Just One Question: Where Do I Send My Check?

Filed under: 2008, Conservatism — olbroad @ 10:07

Thompson is in the race

He’ll step up fundraising, announce for president in July

Fred Thompson’s red campaign pickup truck, made famous by his successful 1994 U.S. Senate run, is ready once again to leave the driveway. This time, it’s pointed toward the White House.

The actor and former Republican Senator plans to form an exploratory committee in Tennessee, possibly as early as Friday, that will let him start raising funds for a presidential bid, longtime friend and political advisor Tom Ingram said Wednesday.

Thompson confirmed in an interview with USA Today published online Wednesday that he would seek the GOP nomination for president, setting the wheels in motion to transform the Law & Order star from a shadow campaigner into a viable candidate. An official announcement is expected around July 4, according to several published reports.

The news came one day after a Tuesday conference call with 100 fundraisers from Tennessee and across the country. The goal was for each person to raise close to $50,000.

Ingram, chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander, was instrumental in helping Thompson introduce the red truck into the Senate campaign. He said Thompson has been moving toward the decision to enter the presidential race for weeks.

“He’s now doing everything he really needs to do to move that along,” Ingram said. “With an ‘if’ being preserved in there but with it becoming more unlikely every day.”

Supporters cheer news

Republican leaders in Tennessee reacted strongly to news of Thompson’s plans.

State Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, who was among those on the fundraising conference call, said Thompson’s candidacy is drawing a lot of enthusiasm in Tennessee and beyond.

“I believe in my heart he’s exactly what this country needs,” Harwell said. “I’m excited. I think most Tennesseans would join me in that excitement.”

Harwell spoke on Thompson’s behalf at a gathering of state Republican party leaders from around the country in Columbia, S.C., two weeks ago.

Since March, when Thompson announced on Fox News that he was considering a presidential bid, a nascent campaign has been building, which included a “draft Fred” movement headed by Tennessee Congressmen Zach Wamp and John Duncan.

The group has received around 40,000 signatures through its Web site, http://www.Fred08.com. A spokeswoman for the group, Emily Booker, said yesterday’s news reports on Thompson’s presidential bid increased traffic to the site.

State Republican Party Chairman Bob Davis said Thompson’s political success in Tennessee will help build enthusiasm for his candidacy at the national level.

“He was more popular when he left office than when he was in office,” Davis said. “Not many people can say that in today’s world. You’ve got people ready to march with the guy right now if he so chooses to run.”

In Thompson’s hometown of Lawrenceburg, a group of locals formed a steering committee two weeks ago to prepare the town for his run. Townsfolk hope their former son makes his official announcement on the town square, the site of the former courthouse where Thompson began his career as a lawyer.

The steering committee will meet this week, and a meeting of volunteers is scheduled June 14 to enlist help in sprucing up the town in anticipation of the national media attention — whether the announcement is made there or not. Someone already started pressure-washing the sidewalks downtown earlier this week.

“We’re fixing up, cleaning up our community,” said Cromer Smotherman, 81, a community leader who has known Thompson’s family for more than 50 years. “We want our community to be very attractive when our favorite son announces his candidacy.”

New challenges lie ahead

Thompson’s move from popular outsider to official candidate will change the rules on everything: politics, media coverage and campaign fundraising.

“This is moving to a whole new level now,” said Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on presidential campaigns.

A standard stump speech will need to be developed quickly, Ornstein said.

Thompson has been trying out various themes in a series of speeches across the country, such as criticizing the extreme partisanship in Washington.

“What he needs most is a compelling case for his candidacy, one that attracts activists and donors and that accords him the status of a serious candidate,” said Thomas Mann, a fellow with the Brookings Institution.

Media scrutiny is in store

Thompson also needs to prepare for more, tougher, media scrutiny. In the lead-up to his announcement,

Thompson has been able to control the news by putting out videos, posting on Internet blogs and speaking to friendly audiences while avoiding tough questions.

“If he says something ill-advised or inaccurate, people will jump all over this,” Ornstein said.

Within minutes of the Thompson news hitting the Internet on Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee sent out a news release purporting to be the highlights of Thompson’s Senate career.

The heading on the document read “Major Legislative Accomplishments of Fred Dalton Thompson (1994-2002),” but the rest of the page was blank.

Another potential barrier for Thompson is the ability to raise campaign money quickly.

Ornstein put the magic number for the first month of fundraising at $1 million or more, a significant sum since donations are limited to $2,300 per person per election and $5,000 for political action committees.

Under federal campaign-finance law, Thompson doesn’t have to begin filing public financial reports until he officially files as a candidate.

“Thompson has a lot of lost time to make up, a lot of money to raise and a lot of organizational moves to make,” said Charlie Cook of the influential Cook Political Report.

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2 Comments »

  1. What is this fascination you Republicans have with Hollywood? First it was the guy from the chimp movies. Then it was the bodybuilder with the funny accent. Now it’s the third-choice fill-in for Paul Harvey.

    Will you never get enough of free-spending movie types? :p

    Comment by grumps — June 1, 2007 @ 8:48

  2. It’s conservatism…not the acting, although whether or not Arnold is really an actor can be debated, and he’s also not a conservative….well, for Kalifornia, he might be.

    Comment by olbroad — June 1, 2007 @ 9:18


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