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The Politico’s Mike Allen And The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes On Fred Thompson: Wither The Al Davis Republicans? (UPDATED)

Email Email Print’s Mike Allen joins me int he second hour today to talk about his article on Fred Thompson’s decision to enter the campaign.  I have two key questions.

First, Allen reports that Thompson might skip the Ames Straw Poll on August 11 where Giuliani, McCain, and Romney have been preparing to test their respective organizational strengths A decision by Fred to skip the showdown would be very surprising as (1)you don’t win elections by skipping contests, and (2)the folks in Iowa like their straw poll, so you don’t win a lot of friends in the state by thumbing your nose at their summer fun.

I also will follow up on the questions I posed to Jim VandeHei a few weeks ago about Thompson’s indolent lymphoma:  What is the rate of recurrence of the disease, and in those cases in which it recurs, how often are those recurrences debilitating?  While not a candidate, Thompson was spared having to discuss the health issue very much, but Republicans have a right to know the odds that their nominee could find himself in chemo or some other form of treatment after the nomination has been secured and before the general election campaign has been fought.  If the very thin reporting on the specifics of his illness is correct, it has been about three years since the first diagnosis of the cancer, and thus a couple of years away from the five year mark which typically signals “full recovery” for a cancer patient. 

Fred Thompson is going to make an already fascinating race even more compelling as he is a very different candidate than the other big three.  He deals the harshest blow to McCain whose shaky start has left a lot of major players uneasy at having backed the wrong horse. Whereas the Rudy and Mitt people knew exactly what they were signing up for  –an against-the-grain of the GOP’s ideological base run by Rudy or a catapult campaign by Mitt that would use early success in Iowa and New Hampshire and superior fundraising and organizational skills to march through the bunched up r=primaries that follow.

McCain’s people thought they were teaming up with a front runner in the mold of W in ’00 or Dole in ’96.  They were banking on the GOP’s long standing predilection to send the nomination to the “next-in-line,” which by their count meant McCain.

But Senator McCain isn’t going to benefit from a party tradition when he hasn’t been a traditional party guy in any sense of the word.  Senator McCain’s been an anti-party guy, and his plummeting support shows what happens when that record is matched against fresh faces and better energy.

So Thompson gives every McCain staffer and money backer a chance at a do-over.  If the exodus from McCain to Thompson gets started, it could burgeon very quickly.

UPDATE: Just interviewed Stephen Hayes of the about Thompson.  Hayes also has a piece up on the Fred’s decision to get in, but thinks McCain-Feingold may be more of a problem for the former senator than is generally thought.  The transcript of my interviews with both Hayes and Allen will be up here later.

One more thought about Fred Thompson’s momentum and why it may not be as great or as sustainable as some pundits speculate.

There is a great fear in the GOP that Hillary is approaching with Bill in the sidecar and Senator Obama on the bottom of the ticket, MoveOn and Kosputin whipping the fever swamp into a frenzy and Soros pouring his last cent into his last play.  Thompson as Reagan meant for a lot of these people not Thompson as a conservative’s conservative, but Thompson as a powerful candidate capable of summoning a huge outpouring of energy and enthusiasm from the base and the old Reagan Democrats alike leading to a big win as in 1980 and 1984.  Couldn’t we please have a candidate who could establish and keep a lead like the Gipper.

Except, of course, Ronald Reagan did not establish and keep a lead in 1980. Until the last few days of the race, President Carter and Governor Reagan were viewed as neck-and-neck in a race too close to call. There isn’t any reason to believe that Fred would have any easier a go of it than Rudy or Mitt, and as that becomes obvious in the days and weeks and months after his entry, the folks hoping for an easy win are going to drop that enthusiasm and start looking hard again at all three, asking which one is the best candidate.

These are the Al Davis Republicans –“Just win, baby”– and their support will be decisive in 1Q08.  One reason I suspect the Fred boom may be over before it has even really begun is the recognition that on the stump Fred will be seen as the southerner he is –slow, folksy, plain spoken.  In a year when an anti-Bush may be needed, a Brookyln-born Mob-busting tough guy, or the hyper-intelligent, hyper-eloquent investment banker turnaround executive may emerge quickly as far more likely to be the “something completely different ” that Reagan was in 1980, and thus the strong prefernce of the Al Davis GOPers.

UPDATE #2: Geraghty the Indispensible has great sources inside Team Thompson.  Perhaps Jim’s blog should be renamed the Hillary-Fred Spot?


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