I asked two of the Beltway’s savviest political reporters —Politico’s Mike Allen and The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, about the impact of Fred Thompson’s announcement about his cancer. Both agreed the announcement indicates growing seriousness on Thompson’s part about making the race, and both were hesitant to see any downside to the campaign ahead, or even to recognize that Thompson as a nominee would be exceptionally vulnerable should a recurrence occur. It is this latter consideration that will be the subject of many conversations over the next few days. That he has been ill and is in remission is far from a negative, and in fact can be a compelling part of an already compelling narrative. It is the probability of a recurrence that will be chewed over in the weeks ahead.
What Republican voters will be asking is what would happen should such awful news arrive, the effect it would have on a nominee already selected by a party or a president already elected by the people. Cillizza doubted that Democrats would attempt to use the risk, however great or slight, as an issue in the general election, but mainstream Democrats and beltway reporters are far removed from the netroots and their collective tactics. So Fred Thompson, if he does run, will have to get out a lot of information on the statistical improbability of recurrence, which the first stories suggest is in fact very much in the senator’s favor.
When Mike Allen reports that a “Thompson adviser added: ‘Doctors say he is fine now and roughly in the same shape as McCain or Giuliani, but he has to get it out there early.'” he is reporting the Thompson campaign code for the assertion that the risk of recurrence of Thompson’s melanoma is roughly the same as that of McCain’s melanoma and Giuliani’s prostate cancer. If that assertion is true and if that risk is low to very low, the news won’t impact the campaign. If that risk is higher than the other two risks, the scrutiny will grow. Thus medical questions, not a political ones, are on the table: Given the public facts about the medical histories of all three candidates, what are the risks of recurrence of their various cancers, and should recurrence occur, what treatments would be in order, what would the effects of those treatments be, and what are the survivability rates?