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Starting Gate: Is Thompson's Field Of Dreams Fading?

(AP)
Fred Thompson has been saying some of the required things while stumping in Iowa this week. Yesterday, the former Tennessee senator said he is all for ethanol subsidies – despite the fact that he voted against them while he was in the Senate. Besides the fact that he's now running for president in the corn-rich state, Thompson cited higher oil prices and dependence on foreign energy sources for the switch.

But has he been saying those things in the right way? Not according to New York Times political scribe Adam Nagourney, who sees a less-than-stirring style in today's paper.

Thompson "was something other than the dynamic presence that some in his party have been yearning for," according to Nagourney. "Iowans saw a subdued, laconic candidate who spoke in a soft monotone, threw few elbows and displayed little drive to distinguish himself from his opponents." He "told few jokes" and "did not appear to have much interest in the small talk that is a staple of retail campaigning." Thompson "often lulled audiences" into a "kind of stillness" that on one occasion led him to request applause.

Thompson has raised a respectable amount of money since June (over $11 million) but perhaps not as much as most expected when prospects of his candidacy were first floated. He continues to do well in national and some state polls but has yet to make a real move in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. When Thompson entered the race in September, his campaign acknowledged that the effort could either take off dramatically or falter within six to eight weeks. But were they prepared for something in-between?

So Much For Straw Polls: When Mike Huckabee finished a surprising second place in the Iowa Republican straw poll, it looked to the political world like the charismatic former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister whose debate performances had gained notoriety was making some headway among GOP primary voters. In a field devoid of conservative darlings in the top-tier, Huckabee appeared on the verge of a possible breakthrough. The came the end of the third quarter.

Ron Paul, the GOP's only anti-war candidate, announced yesterday that his campaign had raised over $5 million for the quarter. Not stunning compared to the $27 million taken in by Hillary Clinton but certainly respectable for the GOP field which has trailed badly in overall fundraising. Huckabee has yet to give and official tally of his quarter but it's been estimated that his take will be around the $1 million mark. Coming in the same quarter as the straw poll, being outraised by Paul four-to-one, if that estimate holds, isn't going to help.

Quest For 60 Votes Closer To Reality? Democratic presidential candidates have had an easy response when they've been pressed on not doing more to end the war in Iraq by activists in the party – they simply don't have the 60 votes needed to get anything through the senate. But GOP retirements and endangered incumbents are putting those votes within reach.

Republicans have 21 senate seats to defend in 2008, compared to just 12 for Democrats. GOP retirements (the latest being Senator Pete Domenici) in four states have Democrats licking their chops and seeing strong chances for winning races in Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and perhaps even Nebraska. A quick glance at the 2008 map shows up to seven more possible races in GOP-held territory that should be competitive while just three or so Democratic-held seats in that category. It would take the equivalent of an inside straight but, at the moment, getting to that magical number of 60 in the senate suddenly doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility for Democrats.

Around The Track

  • Hillary Clinton is launching a new ad in New Hampshire and Iowa focusing on health care with a jab at Rudy Giuliani. One line from the ad: "She stood by ground zero workers who sacrificed their health after so many sacrificed their lives, and kept standing until this administration took action." A not-so-veiled reminder of criticism that Giuliani has received on his handling of ground zero.
  • Despite insisting that they would abide by party rules, the South Carolina Democratic party will ask the DNC for permission to move up their primary date to coincide with the GOP primary on February 19th.
  • Florida Democrats are escalating their fight with the DNC and will file a lawsuit over the national party's threat to strip state delegates for moving their primary outside of the party's window.
  • The latest AP-Ipsos poll shows Clinton and Barack Obama splitting the black vote with Obama getting 40% and Clinton at 38%.
  • Rudy Giuliani is stepping up his media presence and his attacks on Clinton in the Granite State.
  • New York's Conservative Party has invited Thompson – not Giuliani – to speak at their major fall gathering but will not make an endorsement yet. Party chairman Michael Long, noting Giuliani's past positions on issues like abortion and gun control, told the AP, "The leaders of the party and myself have differences with Rudy on all of those issues. It's no secret, that hasn't changed. Saying that, that's one of the reasons (to invite) Fred Thompson, who is closer to the ideals of the party."