Thompson officially enters race
He has played both a real president (Ulysses S. Grant) and a fictional one on TV, and now, at last, former actor/senator/lobbyist Fred Thompson...
WASHINGTON — He has played both a real president (Ulysses S. Grant) and a fictional one on TV, and now, at last, former actor/senator/lobbyist Fred Thompson is ready to audition for the real deal, as he unveils his presidential campaign via webcast today.
The 6-foot, 6-inch Tennessean enters the race late and with sky-high expectations. National polls of Republican voters typically put Thompson in second place in the nine-candidate field, behind former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
But polls also show "none of the above" scoring well or even at times in the lead — a sign, say Thompson backers, that GOP voters are unhappy with their choices.
In a way, the former senator who regularly joked that after working in Washington, D.C., politics, "I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood" has been running for months. He's been building his campaign staff, giving speeches and raising money. But by keeping himself in "testing the waters" mode, not even filing papers to establish a exploratory committee, he has avoided some of the scrutiny that the fully declared candidates have faced.
He has not taken part in any of the GOP debates and missed last night's — although his campaign ran an ad during the debate announcing his candidacy — preferring to make an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
"I'm running for president of the United States," Thompson, told host Leno last night. "I decided it was time for me to step up."
"We will have an opportunity to debate a lot," Thompson said when asked about criticism from fellow candidates for not attending the debate at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. "I will do my share, but I don't think it's a very enlightening forum to tell the truth."
Thompson said he prefers one-on-one campaigning and smaller events. Today he will begin a five-day campaign swing through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Thompson's communications director Todd Harris defended the strategy. "Jay Leno is one of the highest-rated shows on television, and Senator Thompson's message is going to be about bringing the country together under a banner of mainstream conservative change," Harris said. "You can't talk about unifying the country without talking to the entire country."
If there's something familiar-sounding about a Republican actor candidate who gets into a high-profile race late, foregoes early challenges to debate and instead makes his splash on Leno, that's because that's what Arnold Schwarzenegger did in 2003 when he ran for governor of California — and won — in the recall election of Democrat Gray Davis.
Still, Thompson's long-developing sort-of campaign has kept political reporters busy, given the turmoil and regular turnovers among top campaign staffers, mixed reviews for his speeches, and fundraising that had not met his team's stated expectations.
During the spring, the Thompson team put out signals that the campaign would launch around July 4. Then he delayed, sparking talk that he really did not have the fire in the belly for a grueling presidential run. After all, he is remarried, has two young children, and by all appearances was enjoying his post-Senate life playing District Attorney Arthur Branch on TV's "Law & Order."
But Van Hilleary, a former member of Congress from Tennessee who has been raising money for Thompson, sees a Reaganesque ability to communicate and connect with people that will propel him.
"I think it's unfair in many ways to compare anyone else with Ronald Reagan, because he's an icon," Hilleary said. "But [Thompson] does have an ability to communicate, and in that sense, it's similar to Ronald Reagan."
Republicans have long been yearning for the next Reagan — a sunny conservative whose platform was small government, fiscal restraint and family values — and had found the existing field wanting. While Giuliani plays well with his 9/11 tough-guy image and Romney has won over voters (particularly in the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Michigan) with his executive and business experience, both have been found lacking on social issues.
If Thompson, 65, had jumped in soon after he first floated the idea on a Sunday talk show in March, he could have turned the Romney campaign into "political road kill," writes nonpartisan political observer Stu Rothenberg.
Instead, by waiting until now, Thompson allowed Romney to mount a highly organized campaign in the early nominating states with major TV advertising, win the Iowa straw poll, and start the autumn push toward the primaries as a top-tier candidate.
In last night's debate, all eight men on stage welcomed Thompson to the race with barbed humor and pointed advice.
"Maybe we're up past his bedtime," McCain said.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas said he had given up his own spot on "The Tonight Show" because "I'd rather be in New Hampshire with these fine people."
During the debate all the contenders voiced support for the Iraq war despite a warning from anti-war candidate Ron Paul that they risk dragging the party down to defeat in 2008.
"Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor," shot back Huckabee, "and that is more important to the Republican Party."
McCain, Romney and Giuliani stressed their support for the war, at times even competing to show their commitment.
"The surge is apparently working," said Romney, referring to an increase in troops that began earlier this year.
"The surge is working, sir, no, not apparently. It's working," McCain said.
Warrant issued for Dem fundraiser
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — Disgraced Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu was a no-show in a California court Wednesday and a judge issued a new warrant for his arrest.
Hsu, who has donated $260,000 to Democratic Party groups and politicians since 2004, and was a top donor to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, had pleaded no contest in 1991 to a felony count of grand theft, admitting he'd defrauded investors of $1 million after falsely claiming to have contracts to purchase and sell Latex gloves. He was facing up to three years in prison when he skipped town before his 1992 sentencing date.
But a few years ago, Hsu re-emerged in New York as an apparel executive and a wealthy benefactor of Democratic causes and candidates. Presidential contender Barack Obama also received contributions from Hsu for his 2004 Senate campaign.
When he finally surrendered last week, he spent five hours in jail before posting $2 million bail,
Hsu's criminal defense attorney Jim Brosnahan said Hsu had failed to give his passport as ordered.
Hsu had said he thought the criminal charges had been taken care of when he completed his bankruptcy proceedings in the early 1990s.
Compiled from The Christian Science Monitor, McClatchy Newspapers, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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