Thompson Could Be the Biggest Joke

It was appropriate for the former Tennessee senator to announce on a late-night TV show.

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Perhaps it was appropriate that former Sen. Fred Thompson announced his candidacy on Jay Leno's show. Thompson's campaign could wind up a joke.

By waiting so long, the Tennessee good ol' boy may have outsmarted himself. The other candidates, many of whom have been slogging away for months, are not going to let this rival walk in and take over the race.

In fact, on the night he announced, his rivals took jabs at him during a debate in New Hampshire. No further proof was necessary that Thompson was getting no free ride.

To be sure, Thompson has been the beneficiary of Republicans who are still uneasy or unhappy about the crop of candidates given them so far.

Forget the stories on Thompson's poor work ethic. After all, Ronald Reagan could poke fun at his own laziness. And he was elected to two terms in the White House after winning two terms as governor of the nation's largest state.

But Fred Thompson, to remind readers of Lloyd Bentsen's unforgettable blast at Dan Quayle: You're no Ronald Reagan.

Thompson has other problems. While he was playing footsie with running, his nascent campaign staff had turnovers, he failed to meet a money-raising goal, and his record as a lobbyist was getting an unfavorable airing.

Thompson is labeling himself as a Reagan clone. But is he really? He comes from the moderate wing of the party in the Volunteer State in the tradition of Howard Baker and Lamar Alexander. Baker, still widely respected in the capital, is leading the charge for him.

As Thompson puts on his deep conservative label, any and all contradictions in his voting record will come to light. Republicans love negative ads, so you can be sure the other camps are looking closely at every vote and public utterance for a potential TV ad.

Thompson's appearances on the Law and Order program on TV and in several movies will give him some boost. Even then, those fire-breathing leaders in the GOP field will be unwilling to let it take hold of the GOP base.

It is too early to predict with any certainty if Thompson can prove that a late starter can win. Judging from the temper of his opponents, they are ready to answer with a resounding "No way."