Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Law & Order: Ex-Candidate

“I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort,” Fred Thompson said Tuesday as part of a three-sentence statement. “Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people.”

And just like that, the field of Republican candidates for the nomination tightens by one more. Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee, and once-popular film and TV actor, pulled the plug on a presidential campaign that, by even the most generous estimations, was going nowhere fast, and had been from almost the beginning [see "Law & Order: Missing Candidate," "Law & Order: Blindsided Candidate"].

The decision came after Thompson finished a dismal third-place on Saturday in the South Carolina primary, bringing up the rear in a state he'd hoped to win at least partly on the basis of regional affinities.

Thompson's failure to catch fire has been blamed on any one of several factors. He got in too late with too little money. Chaos and dissension within his campaign's ranks was too widespread. The candidate didn't fully grasp some of the details and facts he needed to be effective on the stump and at the debate lectern.

Some say he never found his niche in the campaign. “[I]n South Carolina, he talked more and more of his Christian faith, attacking gay marriage and abortion. But there, too, he found himself boxed in, as Mr. Huckabee, a Baptist minister, had laid a deeper claim to evangelical Christian voters,” the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Others thought his style was too phlegmatic, too laid-back to get any emotional traction with voters. And then there's the fire-in-the-belly issue: many people questioned how badly Thompson wanted it.

Our studio audience has some other ideas. Sam, posting at TheAtlantic.com Web site, weighed in: "He had a strange belief that Internet hype would translate into votes without having to put as much work into the local politics. From the very beginning it was clear their strategy was mass media, and not hundreds of local events. A candidate can effectively use both, but you can't ignore the local joe who is not living on the blogs or watching 24 hour news shows on politics."

Betty in Baltimore, also posting on Atlantic.com, offers what may be the unkindest cut of all. “The dude would have won in 1808, no question.”

They don’t play in Baltimore.

Now comes the question of where his supporters turn now. Thompson campaign advisers said he wouldn't make an endorsement in the race, at least not yet. Conventional wisdom right now suggests that Thompson's exit favors John McCain or Mike Huckabee the most.

Whoever carves up the spoils inherits delegates and campaign workers eager to hustle for a conservative with the ground game and the gravitas to win. Meanwhile, Fred Thompson can watch the next debate from the comfort of home, secure in the love of a wife and two young children -- and with a grateful nation's thanks that he stopped the bleeding when he did.
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Image credit: Fred Thompson campaign, uploaded to Flickr by Ferrylodge > licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license > Wikipedia

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