Thompson, Trailing in S.C., Gives Speech
By Michael D. Shear
Former Tennessee senator Fred Dalton Thompson, who was locked in a battle for a disappointing third place in South Carolina's primary, gave an impassioned and reflective speech to supporters in Columbia, even before the votes were tallied, but did not quite say that he was ready to drop out of the race.
Thompson had said repeatedly to supporters and reporters that he needed a strong finish in South Carolina to stay in the White House race -- a finish that he appeared to be denied Saturday, ending up far behind Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
In a speech that seemed to be leading up to an announcement that he would quit, a normally laid-back Thompson thundered for 10 minutes about the less obvious accomplishments of his run for the presidency.
"It's never been about me. It's never even been about you. It's been about our country," Thompson said after thanking his supporters.
He said that because of his campaign, the national Republican party "is being required to look at itself in the mirror."
That kind of language normally leads to an announcement that a candidate is giving up the chase. Aides said they did not know for sure what the former star of NBC's "Law & Order" and several Hollywood blockbusters was going to say when he went out onto the stage in Columbia.
But Thompson ended the speech with "God bless you!" and walked off the stage, leaving the crowd in the hall and the national television audience wondering about his plans.
The former star of NBC's "Law & Order" and several Hollywood blockbusters teased the country for months in the spring and summer while he considered whether to make a White House bid, becoming for a time the great hope for conservative Republicans who were frustrated with their other choices.
But his campaign was plagued by chaos from the start, losing its campaign manager and many of its senior staff even before the Labor Day weekend announcement. And Thompson made a lackluster effort once in the race, holding infrequent campaign appearances and never lighting a fire under voters.
Thompson's best moment in the campaign was the day he announced. That week, he surged into the lead in national polls, just as he had in July, when most people had expected him to announce his candidacy.
But Thompson quickly dropped off the radar and saw his poll numbers plummet from the high 20s and low 30s in early September to single digits by the end of last year. His support in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire declined so far that he barely campaigned there.
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