Fred Thompson, the small-town boy from rural Tennessee who grew up to be a lawyer, and then a lobbyist, and then a politician, and then an actor who played politicians and lawyers on television, now wants to be president. He makes his debut as an officially announced candidate this month, ending—Thompson hopes—all the talk about the lazy summer he spent "exploring" the possibility of a run while his opponents were sweating through Iowa county fairs.
It must please Thompson, best known for his acting role on Law & Order (rather than, tellingly, for his political role as a two-term senator from Tennessee), that he enters the race with name recognition and favorability ratings similar to those of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has been running hard for about a year. A CBS News poll conducted in August found that one in four Republicans already have a favorable view of Thompson.
But Thompson still has his work cut out for him. Two-thirds of Republicans in that same poll said they had no opinion of him, and meanwhile much of the press has already formed an opinion of Thompson, having been teased by rumors of his imminent presidential announcement back in June, and then entranced ever since by all the delays and problems his unofficial campaign has suffered before even becoming official (problems raising enough money, problems finding the right staff, problems with the powerful role of Thompson's much younger wife, problems with the legal status of his perpetual "exploratory committee"). The opinion of the national press seems to be: This guy either isn't presidential material or isn't serious—or both.
Thus, in honor of Thompson's September 6 announcement of his candidacy, the 65-year-old made the cover of Newsweek, but the cover text was "Lazy Like a Fox" and the crux of the story was this: "The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Thompson doesn't want it badly enough."
Since the conventional wisdom used to be that Thompson would bring Reagan-like gravitas to a lackluster field of Republican bumblers, that's a pretty far fall. Expect further piling on this month from his Republican opponents (and, probably under the radar, from Democrats), who could pick from any number of potential shots: the time Thompson spent in the early '90s lobbying on behalf of abortion rights, his thin record of accomplishment in the Senate, his role defending Richard Nixon during Watergate. (And the fact that even Nixon lacked confidence in him: When Thompson was recommended for the job, Nixon's office taping system captured Nixon replying, "Oh shit, that kid?" and later calling Thompson "dumb as hell.")
The Politico gives Thompson until the end of this month, which sounds about right. He has about $3.5 million in the bank now (much less than Romney and Rudy Giuliani, who each have around $20 million) and if, when the third fundraising quarter ends on September 30, Thompson doesn't have a lot more money, it will be hard to see much enthusiasm behind his campaign—either from voters or himself.
Also with troubles in the enthusiasm department: Hillary Clinton—at least in Washington State, where she has trailed John Edwards (beloved by labor) and Barack Obama (beloved by former Deaniacs) in campaign contributions and support. Part of Clinton's problem is that she hasn't shown up in the state this year, unlike Edwards and Obama, who have each held rallies here. But she is clearly working to build up her local support, announcing on September 4 that she'd secured the endorsement of King County Executive Ron Sims.
Sims will become a cochair of Clinton's Washington State campaign and join the national campaign's Environment and Energy Task Force. Democratic Representative Jay Inslee, also a prominent environmentalist, is the other cochair of Clinton's effort here, and the placement of a green duo at the head of her local campaign suggests that Clinton has noticed the labor and Deaniac crowds going elsewhere, and is angling for the enviro crowd.
In the announcement, Sims, right on message, praised Clinton as an "experienced leader." Clinton gushed back, praising Sims for his "courage."
Standard happy talk, but two likely calculations were behind it: One, Clinton no doubt wants as many elected black leaders as possible to support her over Obama. (Clinton's press release, intended for a national audience, made it clear that Sims is black.) And two, Sims, who seems stuck at county executive after failed runs for U.S. senator and governor, and who has long been mentioned as someone who could make the leap to a federal government post through a presidential appointment, no doubt thinks Clinton is his best shot at some presidential career assistance.