But has he left it too late?
After months of speculation, former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson finally joined the race for the 2008 Republican nomination, with an appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight show while his rivals were engaged in a debate in the key early primary state of New Hampshire.
This is one of the latest ever entries by a major candidate in modern times (although Bill Clinton didn’t declare until autumn 1991 when Bush senior was seen as unbeatable), and now that he has formally declared, attention will turn to whether he will be a major force in the battle for the nomination or will fall flat on his face.
In a video on his website, Thompson set out his reasons for running, mentioning threats to national security and the economy, and the need to change Washington. Meanwhile, his fellow candidates in the debate had some fun at his expense, with Mitt Romney saying: “Why the hurry? Why not take some more time off?”
Obviously a key early test for Thompson will be how he performs in his first debate with the rest of the field now that his candidacy has become a reality. With McCain seemingly out of contention, Thompson will be battling with Romney for the party’s conservative wing, leaving Giuliani as the lone liberal in the race.
Romney already has a victory in the Iowa straw poll under his belt (although none of the other top-tier candidates campaigned there) and more importantly has leads in the states that will kick off the primary season, Iowa and New Hampshire. Momentum from these two could give him a major boost ahead of “Super Duper Tuesday” on February 5 when lots of states, and a number of big ones, hold primaries.
Giuliani meanwhile has opted to instead build support in the states that vote after Iowa and New Hampshire – an approach that prompted one analyst to say: “I’m not saying that his strategy’s flawed – but it’s untried”. Giuliani does have something of the look of a weak favourite about him, and unless Thompson really takes off, for me the betting value is with Romney. The caveat of course is that now Hillary looks very likely to be the Democrat nominee, electability becomes very important for the Republicans too. As an aside, I think they are massively overpriced at 2.64 on the main presidential election market.
Finally, a few weblinks that may be of interest. The Washington Post story on Thompson is here and the latest market prices for the GOP nomination are here. I would also strongly recommend Real Clear Politics and finally, for more electoral data than you can shake a stick at, plus a forum where pb’ers can sometimes be seen, is Dave Leip’s US Election Atlas, although if you’re using this, it uses the “traditional” colour scheme with Democrats in red and Republicans in blue.
Paul Maggs “Double Carpet”
Mike Smithson returns on 17th September
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