First the fun, then the weekend’s burst of analysis, including a report from Fred’s Big Night Out In Newport Beach.
HH: Now we’re wrapping up, Governor. If someone has asked me my favorite novel, I would have said Lord of the Rings, and Eisenhower was a Zane Grey westerns addict. But I’ve got to tell you, science fiction?
MR: (laughing) Well, you know, that’s really not my favorite novel. Probably my favorite is Huckleberry Finn and I’ve read all of Louis L’Amour’s books, I think. I may have missed one of two, but all of his westerns. You know, I have a guilty pleasure in some science fiction. A couple of my other favorite science fiction, Ann McCaffrey’s Dragon Flight, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. There’s some great science fiction out there.
HH: I hope your favorite movie isn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey.
MR: (laughing) I’ll stay away from that.
HH: And have you ever been to a Star Trek convention, Governor?
MR: No, I’ve stayed away from that, too. I must admit, but I do enjoy Star Trek.
HH: Thank you very much, Mitt Romney. Congratulations, look forward to talking
On a much more serious note, Fred Thompson’s speech last night was workmanlike, but given the build-up, underwhelming. With Bob Novak, Carl Cameron, John Fund etc in the room, I was expecting Big Fred to use the occasion to, if not declare, at least show the stuff that has many excited about the prospect of a Thompson race. He may have the music, but he didn’t bring the band last night. It was a speech that President Bush could have given on substance, though full of some well worn and reliable anecdotes that got the automatic chuckles. I found myself agreeing with those who compare Big Fred’s style with that of the vice president’s: serious and experienced, using the aside to get a deserved laugh, a man of accomplishment though looking older than I had expected. Is he, I wondered, really running for veep? From six feet away I just didn’t see the energy that will be absolutely required to power the next year-and-a-half of daily meet-and-greets, or the display of the sort of grasp of the new and the emerging to keep an electorate interested. This may be high political strategery on Thompson’s part, but it isn’t a great idea to gin up the MSM and then deliver an after-dinner speech that could have been given by a dozen folks in the room.
Meanwhile the metrics of the real campaign moves away from Thompson. In my interview with him yesterday, Romney noted a surge in online supportafter the Leno appearance, though he couldn’t say how his very good night had affected Friday’s online traffic at MittRomney.com:
HH: Have you seen traffic at www.mittromney.com spike today?
MR: You know, I have not been back in the office today. I am in Fresno, California, right now, headed to Virginia, and I haven’t heard what’s happening there, but I know that after the Jay Leno show, we got a lot of traffic after that, and people called in and went onto our website, and sent $10 dollar contributions, $50 dollar contributions. It makes a difference, because I want as many people as I can to be part of this effort.
He most certainly does, and after Thursday night, the flow of $10s, $20s, and $50s no doubt increased, and the network in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina expanded. The Tuesday, May 15 debate in South Caroline –next in line– becomes more urgent for Rudy, another test of Senator McCain’s calibration, and an opportunity for Big Fred to get into the water. “[T]he more the merrier, if it’s up to me,” Romney told me about the debates. “You know, I love the chance to get a chance to be on-air, and to talk with the American people, and to talk with fellow candidates.”
A campaign waits for no one, and if Fred is going to be a contender, he’s got to get in sooner rather than later. Florida moved its primary up to January 29 yesterday, making the nomination a done deal by February 5, and the earned media will get you through a few summer months, but as the absentees will start rolling out –when, mid-December ’06 or early January at the latest— the money to run an absentee chase isn’t going to fall from the sky. And the calender may not yet have finished its acceleration. From the St. Petersburg Times:
South Carolina Republicans are set to hold their primary Feb. 2, but had promised to move theirs earlier than Florida no matter what. Doing so could prompt New Hampshire and Iowa to schedule their elections as early as December 2007, to guard their status as the earliest voting states.
I asked Romney about Thompson. “I think you have to say come on in, the water’s fine,” Romney replied. “You know, [Thompson’s] a bright and capable guy. If I were going to get asked about him last night, I would have said something like well, I think we all know that there’s no way that an actor can become president of the United States.”
An exchange between the big four would be a great thing –actually many exchanges between them would be a great thing. But if the format is going to be 10 or 11, better to be among them than to hanging on the sidelines. Some of the pundits sniffed that Thompson helped himself by avoiding the scrum. Sorry. It is hard to get anyone’s attention in the country for any period of time. The base is engaged and watching. Nobody’s owed anything. Every live audience and every viewer invests in every debate that is watched. If Fred isn’t asking for their vote, well, there’s a message there too. I’m not a McCain fan but you can’t say the man isn’t working hard. Can Fred Thompson stay out a long time when a national hero is willing to work the crowd?
John Fund also told me at dinner last night that the longest period between GOP debates between now and Iowa is 12 days. I sighed when I heard that, as did every other person I passed it along to. It’s a marathon, and not many successful marathoners give everyone else a head start.