If Fred Thompson sounds like the conservative candidate from central casting-a latter-day Ronald Reagan-that's exactly the image he wants to project as he prepares to enter the race for the White House, probably in the next few weeks.
Thompson's plan is to make as big a splash as he can, to generate both a tidal wave of positive publicity and an outpouring of campaign contributions that would propel him to the top of the GOP heap. Adds a Republican strategist who is ready to join Thompson's bandwagon: "If he gets into the race, as we all expect, he will be a strong contender from Day 1."
In many ways, he already is. The latest Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey finds that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani holds a slight lead for the GOP presidential nomination, with 26 percent of Republicans supporting his candidacy.
But not-yet-a-candidate Thompson has risen to 21 percent while Arizona Sen. John McCain dropped to 12 percent. Other polls show Giuliani in the lead with about 30 percent; Thompson and McCain tied at about 18 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at or just below 10 percent.
Not bad for a man who has no state-by-state organization, no campaign treasury, and no long-time national base in the GOP. Many conservatives, even though they have only a rudimentary idea of Thompson's positions, suspect that he has enough Reagan-style charisma to unite the party more effectively than anyone else in the field.
Fred Thompson at a Glance
Pluses. Thompson looks and talks like a president. Conservatives like his views. The media boost him as "Reaganesque."
Minuses. Not very active as a senator, lags badly in fundraising, lacks experience as a national candidate.
The buzz. Will Fred flash and fade? That question is generating new excitement in the GOP race, but Thompson gives conservatives fresh hope for 2008.
By Kenneth T. Walsh