Fred Thompson is done being coy. Only a few minutes after his 10 rivals for the Republican presidential nomination finished debating in New Hampshire on June 5, Thompson appeared on Fox News and unveiled his campaign website. Within 18 hours, more than 25,000 people had paid the virtual candidate a visit, contributing some $220,000. Not bad, but not exactly explosive either.
Since he began running his guerrilla campaign three months ago, Thompson has come a long way by playing hard to get. He has appealed to GOP voters not by campaigning but by intravenous means: filling in for Paul Harvey, writing for the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page, blogging. The idea has been to feed the hunger of conservatives who don't see much in the current field to admire--and then rise up to fill the void. Though still officially undeclared, Thompson gets about 12% of the vote in primary-poll matchups.
Thompson has devoted a lot of time to studying why previous GOP hopefuls imploded. He spent part of last week in his Washington-area office, meeting with veteran campaigners while his aides figured out how to find office space, hire advance men and ride herd on financiers. By jumping into the race in early July (and signaling his intentions widely now), Thompson hopes to slow the fund raising of his embattled friend John McCain.
Harder calls await the actor turned Senator turned actor turned candidate. His aides are debating whether to compete in a costly straw poll in Iowa in early August. Some believe that a strong Thompson showing could knock McCain out; others say privately that Thompson's late start means he won't do well in Iowa. "He has had a brilliant little run here," says an outside adviser, "but unconventional campaigns eventually have to turn conventional. We'll see if they survive the turn."