May 30, 2007

Fred Takes The First Step (Updated)

Fred Thompson will take the first step towards declaring himself a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, according to Ryan Sager at the New York Sun. After reportedly meeting with campaign-finance advisors, Thompson will launch a presidential pre-exploratory committee, in a move that will delight Republicans and satirists in equal measure:

Speculation over whether Fred Thompson is serious about running for president just went toes-up. Mr. Thompson's not-yet-a campaign has confirmed: He's dipping his toes in.

Specifically, a Thompson adviser told The New York Sun yesterday, he will announce the formation of a presidential "testing-the-waters" committee early next week — possibly as early as Sunday.

A "testing the waters" committee is a step before the more familiar presidential exploratory committee. It allows the former Tennessee senator to raise money and hire staff. But it also prevents him from doing a number of other things: advertising his candidacy, referring to himself as a real candidate (presumably just in public, he can say whatever he likes in front of the bathroom mirror), raising money that could be transferred to another candidate, or raising money to get on the ballot.

This reminds me of corporate processes for meeting preparation. At two companies for which I worked in management, efficiency training implemented a set of requirements for meetings which eventually forced "pre-meetings" in order to set the agenda for the real conferences. Eventually people tired of these requirements and went back to actually doing work. A "testing the waters" committee seems like an absurd extension of the same process, especially since an exploratory committee doesn't commit a potential candidate to much of anything, at least on paper.

I'm looking forward to a Thompson candidacy. As Sager notes, it will shake up the field and finally clarify the roster. Thompson began hinting that he would run in March, and the polling has clearly shown that he has a ready-made constituency, based primarily on those who feel that the current crop of candidates does not reflect the conservative nature of the party.

Unlike Sager, though, I believe that Thompson has made several serious moves towards his candidacy -- just nothing official. He has managed to make himself very relevant by delivering much-anticipated speeches to various Republican groups. Thompson has also written a series of essays, erudite and sensational, on various hot issues as well as explaining and expanding on his federalist beliefs. It's almost a philosopher's campaign for the White House, an approach that may not have a parallel since Woodrow Wilson.

Rumor has Fred entering the race officially over the Fourth of July holiday. Meanwhile, he's collecting a staff and making plans while still remaining able to use the media to his advantage. That's the real story behind the dipped-toes approach, and it's not Fred's fault that the mechanism exists. Like this primary season, though, it seems like election laws keep extending the degrees in which a candidate is or is not running for office, and the additional stages are bordering on the comical.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has caught up to the story now:

Thompson, who has been fueling speculation of a Republican presidential bid by traveling the country and making speeches, urged a group of donors in a conference call Tuesday to begin raising $46,000 from 10 couples each, starting on June 4, according to two participants in the call. Once the money begins flowing, Thompson will begin to hire a campaign staff and set up his headquarters in Washington and Nashville, his advisers said.

In addition, the nascent campaign is planning to launch a website in the next 10 days, according to one person familiar with campaign planning. Thompson will give a speech in Virginia this weekend and is scheduled to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno next month.

The papers Thompson intends to file on Friday with the Federal Elections Committee will allow the former Tennessee senator to "test the waters" by raising money that could be used once he declares officially, several sources said. The committee will be called "Friends of Fred Thompson."

The Post is more cautious about the July 4th launch date. Michael Shear reports that those plans are "in flux" and could change. I'm not sure why, unless organizationally he thinks he won't be ready for it. It would make a great backdrop for a presidential announcement, and would almost certainly wind up being the political story of the entire holiday.

Also, just to clarify, I'm not criticizing Fred for using the toe-dip committee procedure to keep all his options open. I'm criticizing the fact that the option exists at all. I'd prefer to see just the exploratory committee and the actual campaign, not some pre-exploratory stage where nothing changes at all. It's a reflection of the absurdity of campaign finance reform, as practiced in recent years.


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Comments (11)

Posted by Old Sarg | May 30, 2007 8:59 AM

I believe he is the leadership we need to win.

Posted by TomB | May 30, 2007 9:01 AM

Elections are still A YEAR AND A HALF AWAY. Maybe he is really one very common sense guy?
In any case I like what he did to Michael Moore. By the way, did anybody hear back from Michael lately?

Posted by Kelley | May 30, 2007 11:07 AM

The other day on the Mark Levine radio show, when they were discussing various Republican candidates, Fred refered to them as "MY OPPONENTS."

Those were fellow Republicans, mind you.

In other words, HE'S IN!!

Posted by hapmoorii | May 30, 2007 11:32 AM

I know very little about Thompson, but I doubt he could be any worse than a couple of the front-runners we've been offered to date. If it reduces their chances of winning, the more the merrier I say.

Posted by Rovin | May 30, 2007 12:05 PM

President Fred Dalton Thompson......has a nice ring to it.

He's certainly a straight-talker and you understand what he means the first time around. While he originally supported McCain-Feingold, he now says the policy is flawed and could use some serious revisions. Serious indeed.

Posted by doriangrey | May 30, 2007 2:46 PM

Fred is in..........

By Susan Page, USA TODAY
STAMFORD, Conn. — Politician-turned-actor Fred Thompson has been coy with audiences as he flirts with a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
In an interview with USA TODAY, however, the former Tennessee senator not only makes it clear that he plans to run, he describes how he aims to do it. He's planning an unconventional campaign using blogs, video posts and other Internet innovations to reach voters repelled by politics-as-usual in both parties.

"I can't remember exactly the point that I said, 'I'm going to do this,' " Thompson says, his 6-foot, 6-inch frame sprawled comfortably across a couch in a hotel suite. "But when I did, the thing that occurred to me: 'I'm going to tell people that I am thinking about it and see what kind of reaction I get to it.' "

Posted by Project Vote Smart | May 30, 2007 3:03 PM

Information on Fred Thompson including his voting record, speeches, interest group ratings and biographical information can be found at: Fred Thompson’s Page by Project Vote Smart

For more information on Fred Thompson please visit Project Vote Smart or call our hotline at 1-888-VOTE-SMART.

Posted by FL Buckeye | May 30, 2007 4:32 PM

Is that $46,000 per couple correct?? I thought the max per person was $2300, making that a contribution of $4600 per couple. A couple of misplaced zero's? Or perhaps from 100 couples? A bit confused here...

Posted by Rose | May 30, 2007 10:58 PM

He's certainly a straight-talker and you understand what he means the first time around. While he originally supported McCain-Feingold, he now says the policy is flawed and could use some serious revisions. Serious indeed.

Posted by: Rovin at May 30, 2007 12:05 PM


But he told Sean that he doesn't now regret supporting it at the time. He thinks it was te best decision at the time.

Posted by Karen [TypeKey Profile Page] | May 31, 2007 12:42 AM

When they ask for $46,000 per couple, what happens is those couples go hit up 10 of their friends for the $4600 or 20 of them for the primary limit of $2300. My sister, a doctor with a lot of money, gets invited to those private little funding parties, unfortunately she is a pro choice liberal (one issue voter).

But back to Fred, RUN FRED RUN!!!!!!

He is scheduled to be on Jay Leno on 6/12. There is a lot of speculation that he might announce there, similar to what Arnold did. I have my dvr set for that show. I am genuinely excited about Fred running. If he wasn't in, I would be, ho hum, Guliani, Romney, whoever can beat Hillary works for me. However, with Fred, I am INSPIRED by his candidacy and will be advocating to everyone I know that they should support him.

That is the difference I think Fred brings to the table. He will INSPIRE his supporters and thus have a deeper, more committed base than the other candidates.

Posted by URwiseKing | May 31, 2007 1:54 AM

Fred Thompson may set new heights raising money via the internet and also using that medium to deliver his message. He's got my vote.