For months, we have been hearing about Fred Thompson, the Former Tennessee Senator and “Law and Order” actor. It now does look like he will enter the race after July 4th – immediately becoming a member of the “top tier” – along with Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain. Despite this, any race-shaking “Thompson effect” may be small, and what little effect there is may be focused on surprising places.
No Huge Shake-up
Had Fred Thompson entered the race in February or March, when Romney was a relative unknown, McCain was still flying high, and Giuliani was soaring, seemingly untouchable, and before he was included in most polls, he may have had a huge effect. He would have entered the race at a time when the field was still developing – possibly stopping Romney and draining considerable support from Giuliani and McCain.
Now however, he has been part of almost every poll for more than a month. Any race-shaking that comes with the introduction of a new candidate has been done. Candidates like Romney and McCain have been able to adjust their strategy to be ready for Thompson – and Romney has steadily and, in some places, rapidly, continued to gain support.
If Fred Thompson were an extremely hard-worker, who liked campaigning, had the fire of a major candidate, and had great visual and charismatic appeal, he may still have been able to completely re-shape the race, but he is not. Thompson is a man well known for disliking campaigning and having a reputation as somewhat lazy. He seems to lack the fire of people like Romney or Giuliani, and is not the most visually appealing candidate by any means. Perhaps he has the charisma, but that is about it. With Tompson slipping in some recent polls (i.e. Rasmussen), and Romney gaining, his history and reputation makes it seem unlikely that he could reverse the trends.
Drain in Unlikely Places
Conventional Wisdom would say that a Thompson candidacy would be near-doomsday for the other Conservatives like Romney and Hunter, but that is not what the polls say. Even with Thompson in most major polls, Romney continues to increase support, leading in recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, and maintaining his lead in the RCP polling averages, even after two American Research Group polls gave both states back to McCain.
Rather than being a magnet for Conservatives who have been attracted to Romney, Thompson seems to be pulling most of his support from three groups: undecideds, Giuliani supporters, and McCain supporters. And, when you think about it, it makes sense. Romney entered the race as a relative-unknown, with little support. He has had to really work hard and strive to increase first his name recognition, and then his support. That means that Romney’s supporters are either converts from other candidates, or undecideds. Those are groups who really had to be convinced to support Romney. On the other hand, McCain and Giuliani inherited large support groups the moment they entered the race. There was very little work involved, they were instantly front-runners. While it gave them positive press, it also means that there support base was extremely fragile. With a big name Conservative in the race, many are defecting from the two leading moderates.
What does he bring to the table?
Even if there Will only be a small, or even non-existent, “Thompson effect”, he will still have support, and the question turns to “can he keep that support, or build off of it.” To answer that question, you have to ask another; “what does he bring to the table.” Despite all the hype about Thompson, he brings relatively little to the race.
Thompson has no executive experience, no long-and-strong Senate record, was never a mayor, a secretary, a governor, or a major military official, nor is he free from “flip-flops” – as the label has been applied to other candidates. While his supporters are treating him like the life-long Conservative who will defeat the closet liberal Romney (because of Romney’s past positions on abortion). It seems that they either do not know or choose not to know about Thompson’s past support for abortion – about the same time Romney made large pro-abortion statements (1994). In truth, the only thing Thompson brings to the table is his name recognition – for being an actor.
First Day, Best Day
Thompson’s half-candidacy and the extremely positive press that has accompanied it, may backfire. While Thompson is going to enter the race as part of the “top tier”, he has set high expectations for himself, expectations he may or may not be able to live up to. By entering the race late, and slip-ups, any mistakes, and new dirt, is going to happen much closer to the race – and will give Thompson less time to recover. Romney’s skeletons, facts about his Mormonism, his past position changes, all came early, and are now gone. Thompson, on the other hand, is untested, and has yet to answer the tough questions. It is a very real possibility that Thompson’s first day as a candidate may be his best.