Did he wait too long?
'œAmericans are used to Fred Thompson showing up late,' said Dan Nowicki in The Arizona Republic. As the crime-busting district attorney Arthur Branch on Law & Order, he rarely appears until well into the second act of the hour-long NBC drama. This time, though, the folksy former Tennessee senator's tardiness may be a bit more consequential. After months of teasing and flirtation, Thompson, 65, this week announced that he's seeking the Republican nomination for president. But his 'œprolonged testing of the political waters' has already raised serious suspicions that he 'œlacks the drive and stomach for a grueling campaign.' It's an old and troublesome charge. 'œCritics call his Senate tenure undistinguished, and some have gone so far as to label him lazy.' By all indications, he hasn't changed, said Jay Carney in Time. Thompson decided to skip this week's New Hampshire Republican debate, angering some voters in that key state. And a few weeks ago, he arrived at the Iowa State Fair nearly an hour late and talked for less than 90 seconds. 'œIn other words, he campaigned in person like he was on TV.'
Clearly, Thompson's celebrity status is not going to be enough, said The Economist. Back in March, when he first said he might run, Thompson was hailed as the answer to Republican dreams'”'œa nonscary conservative who could rally the base without alienating the middle.' Charmed by his Southern drawl and imposing presence, some even began to pay him 'œthe ultimate compliment, comparing him to the sainted Ronald Reagan.' But having failed to seize the moment, said Stephen Hayes in The Weekly Standard, Thompson has been floundering. His fund-raising efforts have fallen short, and this summer, key campaign staff members came and went in a dizzying blur. This kind of disarray is 'œmore characteristic of the final days of a losing campaign than the first days of a winning effort.'Not necessarily, said Star Parker in The Dallas Morning News. 'œThis could be Thompson's 'rope-a-dope.'' While the rest of the Republican pack has been busy muddying one another, Thompson has been sharpening his message about the need for a tough national security program and for fiscal responsibility. And he's been deftly communicating that message to the party base via the Internet, while mostly escaping the sort of critical press attention that comes with a formal candidacy. Besides, in this ridiculously long campaign season, it's highly unlikely that a few months from now, anyone will think Thompson started 'œlate.'
Still, Thompson has his work cut out for him, said Stuart RothÂenberg in Roll Call. True, in most national polls, he's running a close second behind former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But in the crucial states of Iowa and New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is leading, 'œwith Thompson trailing badly.' Romney aides say they doubt their candidate would be in such good shape had Thompson jumped in sooner. But perhaps most damaging to Thompson, these last few months have left him looking 'œindecisive and weak.'
New York Daily News