Friday, February 01, 2008

"I coulda been a contender!" -- Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront (1954) ~ "A Complete and Utter Buzz Kill": Fred D. Thompson, R.I.P., (2008)

((((( This should not have happened. Ed, Jeri, Sean, Sarah, why did you let him hire Bill Lacy, even after the fundraiser at Bill Bel's house in McLean>? Did you endorse it? THINK! BOB DOLE? No matter what the NEO CONs say or do, Fred will swing under McCain. Watch and see. ---and he was the BEST of the best, IMHO ---abh ))))))

A Complete and Utter Buzz Kill

Thompson's closest aides on how their ex-boss screwed up
By Holly Bailey NEWSWEEK
Feb 4, 2008 Issue Updated: 10:18 p.m. ET Jan 26, 2008

Fred Thompson (Politician)
Mark Corallo
South Carolina

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Just six months ago, Fred Thompson was the man to beat in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, an articulate former senator turned actor whose campaign was so anxiously anticipated he was branded the second coming of Ronald Reagan before his first campaign speech. But last Tuesday, after finishing third in the South Carolina primary, Thompson ended his campaign—an astounding rise and fall given the early buzz and the chaos of the GOP field, which still lacks a clear front runner.

What happened? About a year ago, as rumors he might run were ramping up, Thompson's poll numbers rose, reaching the 20s in some surveys. Last May, he generated even more buzz by posting an online video challenging Michael Moore on Cuba and health-care policy. Impressed by the publicity the video generated, Thompson, his wife, Jeri, and a handful of aides drew up a game plan based less on retail campaigning than on a Web strategy. His operatives set a $5 million fund-raising goal for last June, built around the idea Thompson would get in the race officially in July.

In retrospect, that may have been the high-water mark of his campaign. Thompson gave a series of speeches that flopped, and raised about $2 million less than he'd hoped. The candidate remained balky, and by August he'd gone through three campaign managers—all before he was officially in the race. Soon, former Bob Dole adviser Bill Lacy was brought in to run a more traditional campaign, a move that prompted other staffers to leave, including Mark Corallo, a former Justice Department aide who was one of Thompson's closest staffers. "Had Fred gotten in the race in July as originally planned and campaigned his heart out, we'd be reading about others dropping out," Corallo tells NEWSWEEK. "But for reasons I still don't understand, he changed course, opting for the remnants of the Dole campaign." After that, Corallo says, Thompson's run "lost its energy and soul."

On the trail, Thompson continued to struggle. He was trashed for showing up to the Iowa State Fair in Gucci shoes and riding around in a golf cart instead of talking to voters. Behind the scenes, there was more drama. His staff complained about Jeri's influence and griped that the candidate refused to give up control of little things like press releases. Thompson wanted to approve every release the campaign issued, an aide who didn't want to be named crossing his boss grumbled last fall. "He won't let it go," the aide said. Thompson also refused to read prepared remarks, straying into rambling discourses. "Stick to the text. Please stick to the text!" another aide, who declined to be named discussing private conversations with Thompson, recalls telling the candidate.

Thompson faced questions from the start about whether he had the fire in the belly. He did little to try to rebut that notion, keeping a light schedule even in the waning weeks of his campaign. In spite of a last-ditch effort in Iowa, Thompson placed a distant third. He skipped New Hampshire to concentrate on South Carolina. He lost evangelical votes to Mike Huckabee, which doomed his candidacy.

Thompson, who headed to Tennessee after South Carolina to care for his ailing mother, has privately told associates he will not endorse another candidate, at least not immediately. It's been expected that Thompson would endorse John McCain, a close friend and former Senate ally. Thompson chaired McCain's 2000 campaign and had been making calls on behalf of the Arizona senator's presidential run before he decided to launch his own bid. Thompson's associates refuse to predict if he will change his mind and throw his support behind a rival, and decline to speculate on who benefits most from his departure. Instead, one outgoing Thompson aide who didn't want to be named talking about his ex-boss tells NEWSWEEK, staffers were mourning a "lost opportunity." "It is very sad to those of us who started out with him, as he was the only consistent conservative," says Corallo. "Fred was a lackluster candidate who would have made a great president."

© 2008 Newsweek, Inc.

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