Finally, Ready for His Close-Up?
For months, Fred Thompson has been a political tease -- not quite a candidate for the White House, but playing the part as well as he did the gruff district attorney on "Law & Order."
Now, the sand in the hourglass finally appears to be running out. With the "unofficial" Labor Day kickoff to the fall campaign just days away, Thompson's quips about "testing the waters" are wearing thin, even for Jay Leno, who joked that "it's not wrinkles on his face anymore. He's starting to prune up from being under water so much."
With summer all but gone, the presidential primaries moving ever earlier and a constant stream of news stories questioning the organizational skills of the people shaping Thompson's "soft" rollout, all indications are that the nascent campaign will finally begin to pull back the curtain, possibly as early as today. And he has little choice: Thompson has to get in now if he wants to the raise money and set up a campaign organization that can compete with former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
There are unmistakeable signs that a formal announcement is imminent. Sources said the timing of such an announcement will become clear within the next 36 hours.
"They are gonna tell their folks they are going to do it," said one source familiar with the campaign's internal deliberations. The source said Thompson will begin telling his supporters as early as this morning that he has decided to run for president. Shortly thereafter, his campaign will make public plans for a formal announcement next week.
Several sources said that Thompson was impressed by the way New York Sen. Hillary Clinton rolled out her campaign, announcing her intentions in a carefully-crafted video and then quickly following it up with a series of campaign rallies.
According to a second source close to the campaign, Thompson is aiming for an announcement backdrop that will "wow." Under discussion, according to the source: a "Reagan" event, perhaps taking place in California, in an attempt to seize the mantle of the Republican icon.
Hopes for some guidance about the timing of an announcement run high in the political press corps, which is busy scheduling their Labor Day weekend travels and eager to know when and where Thompson will finally spill the beans.
Advisers to Thompson are aware of that imperative, several sources said, and were racing to finalize the details of the announcement, which is all-but certain to take place next week.
In the meantime, Thompson today hired veteran political spokesman Todd Harris to be his new communications director, finally tapping an experienced campaign hand to coordinate his message, a campaign adviser said.
A former spokesman for Ariz. Sen. John McCain's 2000 campaign, Harris also served as communications director for former Florida governor Jeb Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He replaces Linda Rozett, who was let go last week.
--Michael D. Shear
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