Although Mitt Romney owned the Iowa straw-poll last month and ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani continues to lead national polls, many Republicans still remain dissatisfied with their current crop of presidential primary contenders. A recent CBS News poll shows that only 40 percent of those asked were happy with the field as it stands.
Many of these disenchanted folks have been holding out hope for an ex-Senator/actor/lobbyist from Tennessee named Fred Dalton Thompson. Thompson has been ‘testing the waters’ for months now and is expected to officially announce his candidacy this week. Poll averages show Thompson at just over 16 percent, a very distant second and barely ahead of Romney’s 14 percent.
Thompson’s supporters primarily focus on his star-power, charisma, and down-home charm as key attributes. His detractors argue that he must be presented in this way to obscure his true bona fides: a less-than-two-term Senator with a reputation of laziness who fled Washington for Hollywood only to return years later as an influential K-Street lobbyist.
Democrats, flushed with pride over their own slate of candidates (the same CBS News poll states that 61 percent of Democrats are satisfied with the group), have chosen to ignore or even mock Thompson’s chances. The left’s favorite nicknames for Thompson include “Frederick of Hollywood” and “The Aqua Velva Man.”
If that is not enough, Republican insiders have been less than enthusiastic as well. Thompson, they say, has dallied too long in officially announcing his intent to join the race, not to mention his speeches have been described as lackluster at best. Also, his age appears to be catching up to him, and, perhaps worst of all, he has yet to attend a single debate.
Next comes the money factor. Even though the upcoming announcement will probably give him a slight boost, Thompson has been unable to raise the funds that many predicted he would. Thompson’s cash-on-hand is not yet public, but it will likely be well short of Giuliani’s $18 million and Romney’s $12 million.
Last is the issue of electability. The non-partisan data-analysis group Real Clear Politics has Thompson losing, on average, by double-digits to either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in a head-to-head race. None of the other Republican candidates fare so poorly.
Of course, this is not to say that Thompson is dead in the water. At 40 percent, there are still a lot of open-minded voters. Thompson’s name (and face) recognition is also high and will continue to grow as reruns of his TV show, Law & Order, continue to air on cable networks during the primary and beyond.
The real question for Thompson is whether he truly wants the job. History is filled with those who ran for president primarily because they were “drafted” by supporters (remember Wes Clark in 2006, forget Will Sherman in 1884). In the past, Thompson was very outspoken about his unhappiness with the daily grind of the Senate, and it’s fair to say being president would likely be even more demanding.
There is also the question regarding Republican voters. While they do love their actors-turned-politicians (Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name a few), do they really want “The Aqua Velva Man” to lead the free world?