Fred Thompson Confirms Bid for GOP Nomination

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 31, 2007

Actor and former senator Fred D. Thompson confirmed yesterday that he is running for president, ending a political flirtation he has been conducting since March and thrusting himself into the thick of the battle for the Republican nomination.

In a conference call with elected officials and party leaders backing his bid, Thompson campaign manager Bill Lacy said Thompson has finished "testing the waters" and will file papers making his candidacy official next Thursday. Thompson will announce his decision on that day in a webcast, with the campaign encouraging supporters nationwide to attend house parties on that day as the former lawmaker from Tennessee begins a trek through the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), who launched an effort to draft Thompson into the race earlier this year, predicted that Thompson will quickly become the candidate to beat.

"Fred has been working out with a personal trainer. There's a saying in the South that a lean dog hunts best," Wamp said after the conference call, one of several the campaign conducted yesterday. "He is a lean candidate, on his toes. Jeri and the kids have given him a new adrenaline in life. He has a presence that the other candidates do not have."

In an e-mail sent out yesterday afternoon, Thompson said the campaign is "an opportunity to change politics in Washington and across the country, and take on these challenges the way every generation of Americans has faced the challenges of their time -- with unity, hard work and a belief that we will come out on the winning side."

According to polls, Thompson's entry sets up a three-way battle for the mantle of GOP front-runner, with former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as his main rivals.

"Romney's trying to consolidate his position on the right. Giuliani's trying to solidify his position [as] national front-runner," said Mike Murphy, a GOP consultant who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his 2000 presidential bid and has also worked with Romney. "The new factor will be: Can Fred Thompson launch a campaign successfully?"

That remains an open question, rival campaigns said.

Thompson's slow rollout of his candidacy has been plagued by staff shakeups, slower-than-anticipated fundraising and unexplained delays in the announcement of his bid. And his work as a lobbyist and lawyer has already presented political vulnerabilities, including controversial clients and a stint working on behalf of an abortion rights group.

Critics of Thompson have also questioned the wisdom of jumping in so late. But Thompson aides said exit polls from past campaigns overwhelmingly suggest that voters make up their minds in the last weeks before an election.

Even with those lingering issues, Thompson has fared well in national and some state polling, establishing himself in second place nationally and as having strong support in some crucial primary states. Aides told participants in the calls yesterday that they have raised $6 million so far, according to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who initially backed Romney but was an early addition to the Thompson camp.

Added Murphy: "What you really have got to do is to take this great, mythic Fred Thompson that everyone seems to be interested in and somehow campaign on a day-to-day basis."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company