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Pure Horserace: Starting Off In Second

Fred Thompson enters the 2008 presidential race trailing Rudy Giuliani overall among Republican primary voters and among key groups, according to August's CBS News poll (8/8-12, 2007). Giuliani gets 38 percent support for the nomination, Thompson 18 percent, Mitt Romney 13 percent and John McCain 12 percent. Giuliani leads Thompson among both moderates (49 percent to 16 percent) and conservatives (31 percent to 22 percent), and in all regions of the country - including the South, where Giuliani is up 40 percent to 21 percent.

There seems to be a lot of room for primary voters to get to know Thompson. Most (67 percent) don't know enough about him to have an opinion of him. Those who do know him see him positively, by a 24 percent favorable to 7 percent unfavorable margin. Conservative GOP primary voters view Thompson especially favorably: 30 percent have a favorable view and only 2 percent an unfavorable one.

By contrast, current front-runner Giuliani is better known: only 37 percent don't have a view of him, and he's viewed positively by 48 percent to 14 percent unfavorable.

The backers Thompson already has in his camp, according to combined polls from July and August, tend to be conservative (three-quarters of them are); paying a lot of attention to the race (three in 10 are, as opposed to one in 10 of Giuliani's voters who are); and were overwhelmingly unsatisfied with the GOP choices they had prior to Thompson's entry.

Now that he is in the race, we'll see if that discontentedness changes. - Anthony Salvanto

A New Race - For Endorsements:The transition from summer into fall means that voters are going to pay more attention to the presidential race. But they're not the only ones taking on an increasing role in the contest, as this week's sudden glut of labor union endorsements indicates.

In the past two weeks alone, Democrat John Edwards has picked up four union endorsements: The Transportation Workers Union of America announced today that they're backing the former North Carolina senator, and he's also been endorsed by the United Steelworkers, the United Mine Workers of America, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Also today, Hillary Clinton accepted the endorsement of the Transportation Communications Union.

But that' just the beginning. Many more unions have endorsements to make, including the influential Service Employees International Union, whose backing helped catapult Howard Dean to the front of the Democratic pack, at least temporarily, in the prelude to the 2004 nominating process. Republicans get in on the act, too, seeing the backing of anti-abortion organizations, some police unions and gun rights groups.

The battle for endorsements plays a major role in turning fall into a frenzy. The candidates have already grown accustomed to going back and forth between New Hampshire, Iowa and other states. They now have to add to that list courting and negotiating with various organizations, all in an effort to win their stamp of approval. All while yet another fundraising deadline is just over three weeks away.

Is the effort worth it? After all, there's an argument to be made that raising money and meeting actual voters is a lot more worthwhile than winning the backing of a national organization whose membership may be relatively small. But don't expect the candidates to ignore the appeal of a key endorsement. In fact, for Republicans, they could be especially crucial. Most of the field is seeking to become the conservative alternative to Giuliani, the front-runner, and telling voters you've been named the best candidate by a pro-life group may be more potent than any stump speech. Democrats benefit from a labor union's fundraising and organizing power.

With both parties' candidates having so much to gain from winning these groups' approval, it remains likely they'll somehow find time in their schedules to do what's needed to get it. - David Miller

Courting McCain? Most analysts gave John McCain high marks for his performance in last night's New Hampshire debate, but the Arizona senator still has a long way to go to regain some semblance of the strong position he occupied last winter. While the rest of the field publicly won't write off McCain's chances, they are starting to speak very highly of him.

In his appearance on the "Tonight Show," Thompson made sure to mention McCain when he was asked who he thought his toughest primary opponent would be. "I know them all to a certain extent. John McCain and I sat side by side on the Senate floor. He's a good friend and will be after this is over with - unless, of course, he beats me," Thompson said.

When asked to respond to McCain's pointed opinion that Giuliani lacked foreign policy experience during the debate, the former New York City mayor responded with a compliment. "I have tremendous respect for Senator McCain. I think I've said more than once, if I wasn't running, I'd probably be supporting him for president of the United States," he said. Mike Huckabee also went out of his way to praise McCain. "Let me make this clear," he said, "If there's anybody on this stage that understands the word honor, I've got to say Senator McCain understands that word because he has given his country a sacrifice the rest of us don't even comprehend."

Only Romney seemed to criticize McCain, and that was in a nuanced manner during the debate over immigration when he castigated the Senate bill sponsored by McCain earlier this year. The more fierce verbal combat was reserved for Romney and Giuliani and even Huckabee and Ron Paul. With McCain riding low in the polls and money race these days, the rest of the field may not see him as much of a threat at this moment - but they probably see his future support as a big prize. - Vaughn Ververs

Biden Goes Way Off The Trail: Some candidates think frequent trips to Iowa are the key to winning the nomination, but Democrat Joe Biden, who has made his foreign policy expertise the centerpiece of his campaign, is taking a different route this week with a visit to Iraq.

Biden will be meeting with soldiers, Iraqi tribal leaders and U.S. officials in order to get a firsthand perspective on whether President Bush's troop surge is paying off. "The President told us that the purpose of the troop surge was to buy time for political reconciliation at the national level. During my trip to Iraq, I hope to gauge firsthand the prospects for - and progress towards - that goal," Biden said in a release.

The visit follows Biden's first ad of the campaign, which mentioned another trip to Iraq. Will flexing his foreign policy muscles win Biden the nomination? Maybe not, but it could put him on the short list of potential secretary of state nominees should a Democrat prevail in 2008. - David Miller

Win A Visit To The Clinton Kitchen: First there was "Dinner With Barack," in which Barack Obama selected four donors to go out to dinner with him - a fundraising tactic he's since repeated. Now Hillary Clinton is getting in on the act, giving a donor the chance to eat lunch with her. But there's an added bonus: Her husband will be there as well.

In an e-mail sent to supporters today, Bill Clinton said he would "drop in" on lunch with his wife and the lucky donor. "There's no one smarter, no one better informed, and no one whose conversation I enjoy more," Clinton says of his wife. "So if you have the chance to sit down and talk with Hillary - like you do right now - you don't want to miss it. That's why I'm going to join the two of you."

No word about what's on the menu. But since Obama served steak at his dinner, you can bet that the Clintons will probably serve something better than PB&J. - David Miller

Well, We Elected A "Jimmy" Once: It might be natural to assume that Fred Thompson's real first name is Frederick. Or maybe just Fred. But the Los Angeles Times has the real scoop: His birth name is Freddie Dalton Thompson, and he was known as Freddie until he began practicing law when, doing the opposite of former President James Earl Carter, he adopted a more formal version of his first name.

This election, already unique in many ways, has also stood out for how often the names of its candidates are an issue. Mitt Romney's real first name is Willard. Hillary Clinton seems to have dropped her "Rodham" - and, oftentimes, her "Clinton." There's a serious debate over whether someone named Barack Obama - whose middle name is Hussein - can even be elected. What's in a name? In this election, quite a bit, apparently. - David Miller

Editor's note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.

By Anthony Salvanto, David Miller and Vaughn Ververs
By Anthony Salvanto, David Miller and Vaughn Ververs

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