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Thompson Ends Race, Immediate Endorsement Unlikely

Former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.) dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination today, following months of lackluster campaigning and chaos within his campaign organization.

"Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States," Thompson said in a terse statement. "I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people."

Those close to Thompson say that his mind has been elsewhere since his disappointing third-place finish in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary because he has been in Tennessee caring for his mother who is seriously ill. Those same sources suggested that Thompson, a politician turned TV and movie star, is not likely to immediately endorse any of the remaining candidates in the field.

While one source close to Thompson suggests that several candidates have sought to reach out to him following his disappointing finish in South Carolina, campaign officials for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former governor Mitt Romney (Mass.) insist they have had no contact with Thompson.

It's not clear what if any value would come from a Thompson endorsement -- should he choose to proffer one. The arc of Thompson's campaign has been almost straight downward since he floated the idea of running for president last spring. Polling in the late spring/early summer showed Thompson surging into the lead nationally and in key early states. But a series of staff departures, slipups and a delayed formal announcement took the shine off of the movie star-turned senator's candidacy. Thompson placed third in Iowa, took just 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and, despite an intense push over the past ten days, could only muster a third place finish in South Carolina.

It had long been assumed that if Thompson dropped out he would almost certainly support McCain. Thompson was one of a handful of senators to support McCain's 2000 presidential bid, and the two men had been friends and allies in the Senate.

Thompson's conservative credentials could help McCain in northern Florida and in the state's panhandle in the increasingly crucial vote there on Jan. 29. But, if he is committed to not immediately endorsing McCain or any other candidate, that may well be a moot point.

The former star of "Law & Order" and several movies generated enormous interest and speculaton last spring and summer while he openly pondered whether to jump into the presidential campaign. For a while, many conservatives who were unhappy with the field of GOP candidates looked to Thompson as the solution. Thompson launched his campaign with bravado and an appearance on the "Jay Leno show," but it was all downhill from there. He saw his poll numbers drop from the the high 20s and low 30s in early September to single digits by the start of this year. He also lost his campaign manager and many of his senior staff members even before his Labor Day weekend announcement.

For more on Thompson, make sure to read Mike Shear's piece in today's Post.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 22, 2008; 2:37 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: With Thompson Out, Who Benefits Most?

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