By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, whose candidacy fizzled after a summer of expectations, pulled out of the Republican presidential race yesterday after disappointing finishes in all of the primary contests held so far.
In a terse, three-sentence statement, the actor-politician abandoned a candidacy that once seemed to offer everything a Republican voter could want: solid conservative credentials, Washington experience, Hollywood panache, Southern charm and a commanding personality.
"Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States," Thompson said in the news release. "I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort."
The statement was a diminutive end to a campaign that began with enormous hype. It was the image of Thompson as commander in chief -- a part he played in a movie -- that seemed so promising when he contemplated running for the White House last spring and summer.
Instead, the campaign became roiled in staff disputes that centered on Thompson's wife, Jeri, and was dogged by assertions that Thompson did not have the desire or energy to mount an aggressive presidential campaign.
That view was affirmed soon after Thompson entered the race in early September. He ignored some of the states with the earliest contests and campaigned sporadically in others.
Thompson's withdrawal may have little effect on Tuesday's Republican contest in Florida, where the remaining five candidates are already trading barbs. He had averaged about 8 percent in recent polls in the state.
Speculation swirled among rival campaigns that Thompson may endorse Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Rumors had suggested for weeks that Thompson was staying in the race only to help McCain by pulling votes from other rivals. Two senior Republicans in Washington with knowledge of the campaign said yesterday that Thompson told them he will not endorse anyone anytime soon.
In an interview on MSNBC, candidate Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, said he might have beaten McCain in South Carolina had Thompson already bowed out.
"The votes that he took essentially were votes that I would have most likely had," Huckabee told the network.
Another rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, praised Thompson for running a positive campaign.
"Throughout this campaign, Fred Thompson brought a laudable focus to the challenges confronting our country and the solutions necessary to meet them," Romney said in a statement. "He stood for strong conservative ideas and believed strongly in the need to keep our conservative coalition together."
With or without a direct endorsement, the remaining Republican candidates will begin courting Thompson's supporters for what appears to be a tight race in Florida.