Pure Horserace: Thompson's Troubles

Fred Thompson, former US Senator of Tennessee, with wife Jeri Kehn, photo , 6/2/2007
AP / file
A few weeks ago, the standard media line on Fred Thompson was that he was going to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination with a splash, shoot right to the top of the polls and begin a pitched battle with Mitt Romney for the hearts and minds of the party's conservative voting base.

Today, the media is telling a different tale. The actor and former senator now is not expected to formally enter the race until September. First there were reports that Thompson had replaced his top aide with former Sen. Spencer Abraham and strategist Randy Enright. Then came stories that fundraising for Thompson's "testing the waters" committee had fallen flat. And now, according to The Atlantic Monthly's Marc Ambinder, one member of Thompson's advance team has left the campaign after only two weeks on board, with more expected to follow.

Looming over all of this is the specter of Thompson's wife, Jeri Kehn Thompson. Our own Bob Schieffer has characterized her as "the driving force in this campaign." But rumors swirling within the Beltway suggest that many people feel she is playing too large a role. The campaign was once working to prevent the "trophy wife" label from being applied to her, but now they may have to deal with comparisons to Lady Macbeth if the string of bad news and departures continues.

But let us not overestimate the impact of one week of bad news. Both Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have had "bad weeks" and neither is exactly a candidate-in-crisis. John McCain, on the other hand, seems to have had about eight bad weeks in a row at this point. And Thompson seems keenly aware of this. According to Ambinder, he's sent out an e-mail to supporters that promises more activity in the near future: "On Tuesday, August 7th, we're inaugurating a new weekly 'I'm With Fred' e-mail, complete with news, updates, and photos from the road," Thompson writes. "We're also working on the ImWithFred Web site 2.0, in order to keep in touch on a daily basis and to give you more opportunities to join us at events, help us organize, and spread the word about our efforts."

Keep in mind that the negative press surrounding Thompson revolves around the organization of his campaign, an issue that is of little concern to anyone outside of the Washington, D.C. area. In a way, these internal problems might be a blessing for Thompson, since the media has largely stopped talking about claims that he lobbied the first Bush administration to loosen restrictions on abortion counseling.

Still, it's definitely in Thompson's best interest that next week be better than this one. If Beltway journalists chatter long enough about his campaign being troubled, eventually people in the rest of the country — especially the politically aware residents of Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as prospective donors — will start paying attention. — David Miller

Tuning Out YouTube: Some thought it was awkward. Others thought it was far too silly. But by and large, Monday's Democratic presidential debate, which featured questions submitted from YouTube users, got good reviews: The questions were more varied than in past debates, as well as more direct. Also, this debate was the one that finally made the tension between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton boil over into actual conflict.

Then again, while all of those are good things for those who are following the election, they might not be good for politicians. Still, it was somewhat surprising to find out, through Marc Ambinder's blog, that Rudy Giuliani isn't going to participate in the Republican version of the YouTube debate, scheduled for Sept. 17. His campaign used the tried-and-true reason of "unspecified scheduling conflicts" for declining an invite. And according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Mitt Romney hasn't committed to the debate either, saying, "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman," in reference to a question from Monday featuring a snowman asking about global warming.

The absence of Giuliani and Romney, widely perceived as the top two Republicans in the race, would substantially diminish the event's potential impact. It's also unclear whether Fred Thompson will even be in the race then, much less agree to be in this debate.

Giuliani's decision is especially interesting. The debate is scheduled only six days after the 6th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Giuliani has based much of his campaign on his actions as New York Mayor on and after that day. The event is also happening in Florida, which could hold its primary as early as Jan. 29 and is one of the large states with a healthy number of the moderate Republican voters that Giuliani hopes to win on his way to seizing his party's nomination.

Giuliani and Romney obviously both have reasons for not wanting to attend, but what those are will likely remain a mystery. One thing we can say for sure, though: CNN is not very happy right now. — David Miller

Sex Sells: Anyone who subscribes to Hillary Clinton's campaign e-mails may have thought their spam filter had failed them earlier today, when a message with the subject line "Cleavage" showed up in their in-boxes. But this was no sales pitch for a miracle breast-augmentation drug; it was a fundraising appeal from the Democratic front-runner.

The letter, written by senior adviser Ann Lewis, bashes the Washington Post for a 746-word story that focused on Clinton wearing a somewhat low-cut shirt on the Senate floor last week. Lewis says the story is "insulting to every woman who has ever tried to be taken seriously in a business meeting. It's insulting to our daughters — and our sons — who are constantly pressured by the media to grow up too fast."

The media, Lewis says, should take their eyes off Clinton's cleavage and instead focus on "turning this country around after six long years of Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzalez [their misspelling, not ours], Karl Rove, and George Bush." She then encourages Clinton's supporters to "take a stand" by making a campaign donation.

It's not clear to us how donating money to Clinton will cause the Post, or any other newspaper, to change what they're writing about. But putting supporters' indignation to use is certainly an effective tactic — just ask John Edwards. — David Miller

Hometown Blues: For all of McCain's troubles, he's always been very popular in his home state of Arizona, which he's represented in Congress for nearly 25 years. But according to a new poll, it looks like even McCain's constituents are souring on his presidential bid.

According to an American Research Group poll, McCain still leads the Republican race in Arizona, with the support of 32 percent of voters, compared to 23 percent for Rudy Giuliani. But that's a substantial decline from February, when McCain was at 45 percent support in the same poll. — David Miller

Politics In The Internet Age: This week's YouTube debate was only the latest example of the Internet having an impact on politics, and it certainly won't be the last. What does the future hold? To find out, CBS News.com's David Miller talked to Andrew Rasiej, founder and publisher of TechPresident.com, for the latest installment of Political Players. Rasiej says voter-generated content is going to play a larger role as the '08 campaign goes on. He also notes that one party seems to understand the Internet better than its competition. Which party, and which candidates, have the edge? Find out by reading this week's interview.

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

By David Miller