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Fred's Couch Moment

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007; 9:38 AM

Look at the way Brit Hume led off the Fox debate last night: Enough about you, what do you think of Fred Thompson getting into the race?

The actor blew off the New Hampshire gathering to announce his intentions to Jay Leno, drawing a bigger audience without those pesky GOP rivals nipping at his heels.

Thompson was casual and folksy as he made the declaration, but seemed to me a bit rambling and low-key for a man accustomed to memorizing his lines. He made a couple of mild jokes, but mostly kind of ambled his way into the race. One thing I found off-putting: He barely glanced at Leno, playing instead to the camera, but didn't look directly into the camera either, instead sort of gazing into space.

It was, to be candid, a flat performance--though he didn't look like the striving candidates who, as he put it, have been planning their presidential bids since high school.

On issues, Thompson said we should stay in Iraq "until we get the job done"; warned of the dangers of al-Qaeda, Iran and Hezbollah, and said he wouldn't apologize for the USA. He offered no specifics or even a memorable one-liner.

"After months of false starts, staff shake-ups, and questions about the seriousness of his intention to run for president," says the New York Times, "Fred D. Thompson rolled out his candidacy last night with a two-pronged entry into the race that sought to take the spotlight from his Republican opponents as they squared off in a debate.

"Choosing 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno' to declare 'I'm running for president of the United States,' Mr. Thompson said, 'I don't think people are going to say, "That guy would make a very good president, but he just didn't get in soon enough." ' . . .

"Mr. Thompson provided himself a pleasant, risk-free forum, safe from potential negativity and tough questioning from reporters, a debate moderator or the public."

San Francisco Chronicle: "As he sat in the NBC Burbank studios, the former Tennessee senator rolled out his new script: morphing from District Attorney Arthur Branch of 'Law & Order' into a real presidential candidate, with some folksy and feisty talk that kicked off a blitz of activity announcing his entry into the race . . .

"Leno introduced him as 'one of the most popular Republicans not running for president' and then asked, 'You've been in the water for awhile now . . . Are you starting to get a little wrinkly?'

" 'These wrinkles don't come from the water,' the 65-year-old Thompson mugged."

As for the debate, Fox's innovation was not YouTube but ChowDown: Carl Cameron in a New Hampshire diner, letting a couple of residents sound off and asking the candidates to respond. All the candidates talked tough on immigration and terror, and all but Ron Paul pronounced the Iraq surge a success. Most interesting moment: Mike Huckabee and Paul going at it over Iraq. Why don't more debate moderators let the candidates argue?


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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