Fred Thompson Is In

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That's what Stephen Hayes is reporting in the Weekly Standard and Mike Allen in Politico. Last night I attended an off-the-record American Spectator dinner with Thompson and his wife, Jeri; George Will and Robert Novak were also there. I'm not supposed to say what was said there, but nothing I heard inclined me to think that Hayes and Allen have gotten it wrong. Thompson's exploratory committee will go into action June 4, collecting money and hiring staffers.

Blake Dvorak of Real Clear Politics summarizes the poll numbers nationally and in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. Nationally it's Giuliani 26 percent, McCain 18, Romney and Thompson 10 each. Iowa looks like a three-way tie between Romney, McCain, and Giuliani, with Thompson trailing. New Hampshire looks like Romney on top, with McCain and Giuliani not trailing by much, and Thompson far behind. South Carolina has McCain a bit ahead of Giuliani, with Thompson third, ahead of Romney. Florida, which has set its primary for January 29, has Giuliani well ahead, with McCain, Thompson, and Romney roughly tied.

The Republican primary numbers seem fluid to me, more so than the Democratic numbers. Giuliani jetted off to a big lead in February and March, then fell back to a small lead, with McCain making a slight recovery. But that's just in the national polls. The early contests look different. This is going to be a hard one to game out. Republican rules in the past have tended to be winnertakeall. But now some states are going to select delegates by district, including Florida and California, which votes February 5. That may allow candidates to cherry-pick delegates.

What can I say about the Thompson candidacy? From what I've heard from him in the past, and uncontradicted by what I heard last night, he tends to focus on big issues—the threat of Islamist fascism and the need for overhauling the tax system. He is fluent and sounds folksy, but his statements also suggest a pretty solid base of knowledge. He speaks like an outsider from beyond the Beltway, not a Washington insider. That's a plus. But I think there's a serious question whether having a Southerner—even one with national exposure as an actor—will be a liability for the Republican Party. The Republican nominee will most likely win the lion's share of electoral votes in the South (unless he's utterly uncompetitive) but needs to win a fair lot of votes outside the South in order to win; George W. Bush only barely did so, two times.

Another question. Peter Hart conducted a focus group in Baltimore County in which he found that Giuliani and McCain have a real advantage over Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when the question is who can best protect the country. This helps to explain why Giuliani and McCain run ahead of or even with Clinton and Obama when voters have a generic preference for a Democratic candidate. The question: Can Thompson have the same advantage? His demeanor is strong and reassuring, but he lacks Giuliani's executive and McCain's military experience.

But that demeanor may count for something. Dvorak cites the numbers on Intrade, which reflect the prognostications of people betting their own money. Rounded off, they are Giuliani 27, Romney 23, Thompson 23, McCain 18. That's how many cents you have to pay to win a dollar if you're right. Intrade seems to be expecting a fluid and exciting race. So am I.