Republicans debate; Fred announces

Eight Republicans argued over the Iraq war and immigration before a crowd of 3,600 New Hampshire voters. Missing in action: actor-politician Fred Thompson, who skipped the debate in favor of announcing his candidacy in the more comfortable setting of late-night TV.

With delight, they zinged him for ducking the debate, their fifth.

“Maybe Senator Thompson will be known as the no-show for the presidential debates,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said.

“Maybe we’re up past his bedtime,” joked Arizona Sen. John McCain. (At 65, Thompson is actually six years younger).

Thompson’s scripted announcement — an appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” a commercial and a Web video — allowed him to avoid the unscripted debate, which raised troublesome issues important to conservative primary voters.

How to handle illegal immigrants. Whether to pass a constitutional amendment saying life begins at conception. Whether to sign a no-new-taxes pledge.

These questions, addressed Wednesday by his rivals, await Thompson on the campaign trail.

He begins a tour of early primary states Thursday afternoon in Iowa.

In the Fox News Channel debate:

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney thumped former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the “sanctuary” policy that stopped New York City workers from reporting illegal immigrants. Giuliani accused Romney of tolerating the same policy in Massachusetts cities while he was governor.
  • Huckabee called for a “human life” amendment to outlaw abortion.
  • McCain and Giuliani refused to make a no-new-taxes pledge, instead citing their records of supporting tax cuts.

Thompson already has raised eyebrows on taxes; traveling last month in Iowa, he refused to rule out raising taxes.

“You can’t win a Republican primary for the presidency without clearly stating you’re not going to raise taxes,” said Pat Toomey, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who heads the anti-tax group Club for Growth. “He’s been able to avoid taking a lot of shots.”

Thompson’s campaign also has stumbled, raising less money than expected and weathering a stream of staff departures amid grumbling about the active role Thompson’s wife, Jeri, has played in the formerly unofficial campaign.

“Let’s say we chalk it up to working the kinks out,” GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said. “But they have to run a near-perfect campaign from here on out, because they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Now the bar is set high for Thompson, who will be judged on how much money he raises, how his announcement goes and the kind of campaign team he assembles, Fabrizio said.

Initially, Thompson’s entry may have the most impact on Romney and McCain, two leading candidates who have positioned themselves as conservatives seeking a more limited government.

Thompson also is promising to be the same kind of conservative: “A government that is big enough to do everything for us is powerful enough to do anything to us,” he said in his campaign announcement.

But there’s more to Thompson than his conservative voting record as a senator from Tennessee. As an actor — he plays gruff district attorney Arthur Branch on television’s “Law & Order” — Thompson has a certain magnetism.

Another magnetic personality, former President Clinton, acknowledged as much Wednesday on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

“Because of his movie roles and his television roles, he has got a certain swagger,” Clinton said. “He is smart. And he knows what to say, and how to say it, to appeal to a certain big swath of the American electorate.”

If his campaign gains traction, Thompson could challenge Giuliani’s lead in national polls.

His performance in future debates is equally important. The next opportunity is Sept. 27 in Baltimore, although not all Republicans have agreed to participate.

“First impressions for Thompson are going to be absolutely crucial,” conservative Republican consultant Greg Mueller said.

“How he does in debates, his first commercial, appearances on major talk shows, how he handles issue questions in the media,” Mueller said. “The first three weeks are going to make or break the Thompson campaign.”


Libby Quaid covers presidential politics for The Associated Press.


  1. Sandra Price

    The arrogance of the Republican Candidates is too much for me to endure. It’s bad enough they show up for the debates ignoring the party corruption but we now have one so arrogant he won’t play in their sand box. They all deservce to take a beating next year.

    America is turning into Rome with these awful people who want to rule all of us.

  2. keith

    The headline of this story SHOULD read” “Republicans Debate; Fred Announces…and RON PAUL GETS IGNORED.

    The ONLY candidate in last night’s Republican debate who spouted anything other than the fully entrenched Republican “party line” was Congressman Ron Paul.

    He advocated, among other things, immediately removing ALL of our US troops currently occupying the Arabian Peninsula and then “minding our own business”. He loathed the sweeping loss of our constitutional rights under President Bush and his stooges in the US Congress and he spoke out strongly against the wholesale bankrupting of our country’s Treasury to pay for it all.

    What’s more, if live audience reaction was any indicator, Mr. Paul’s frank comments drew the most cheers and applause. Yet, there’s been nary a peep about what he said (or both the live and TV audience’s strongly positive reaction to it) in ANY of the mainstream news reports I’ve read about the debate so far.

    Could it be that his continued, strong Libertarian, “Live Free or Die” message scares the living daylights out of the elite, “Republicrat” press who have the most to lose if his candidacy is in any way successful?

    Whether we agree with their messages or not, so called “third party” candidates still need to be heard. That means that what they say still needs to be fully reported in the media.

    And those who blindly align themselves with one or the other of the current mainstream political parties (or say that third party candidates “don’t have a chance of winning”) might also be surprised to learn that a number of our country’s most honored elected statesmen were neither Republican NOR Democrat.

    For example, Alexander Hamilton was a member of the Federalist Party, Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams were Whigs and Theodore Roosevelt was a member of the Progressive Party (otherwise known as the Bull Moose Party).

    Even today, there are some 60 or so “Third Parties” in American politics, although we seldom (if ever) hear about any of them in the mainstream media. Of these, the most popular (in terms of actual votes cast in previous elections) are the Green Party, the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party.

    But, clearly, right now, Congressman Ron Paul is the elite’s worst nightmare. Simply having him in the mix (and running on the (gasp!) Republican ticket while spouting strict Constitutionalist ideas!) is a MASSIVE public relations blow to their complete control over what we see and hear.

    And that’s probably why the mainstream media organs are now trying their absolute, level best to discredit both him AND his candidacy at every turn.

    But, so far at least, nobody has dared to call it censorship.

  3. kanawah

    Another politically dysfunctional actor trying to screw things up a little more.

    What little I know of his time in the senate, he was some what lack luster as a congress man. Add to that the fact that he pimped himself to K Street, I consider him totally NOT qualified.

    Unfortunately, when comparedto the other offerings by both parties, who ever gets the white house, we are still in trouble.

  4. nuQler Ostrich

    Law and Order candidate, huh?

    So now that Frederick of Hollywood has officially announced his candidacy, and ended his “testing-the-waters” phase, what is he going to do with all the money he raised for testing the waters?

    Federal election law is very clear. in testing-the-waters, a potential candidate is only allowed to raise enough money for rudimentary lodging and travel. 11 CFR 100.72 And any money raised during the testing-the-waters phase is illegal to use for the regular campaign.

    So what is Fredrick going to do with the more than $3.3 million? He can’t use it in his campaign, so will he donate it to some charity or give it all back?

    Certainly the “Law and Order” candidate wouldn’t dream of violating federal law, would he?

    Republicans have a reputation of standing strong for the rule of law, no?

  5. nuQler Ostrich

    Ooops, My Bad.

    An individual who spends money only to test the waters (but not to campaign for office) does not have to register as a candidate under the election law. (The threshold that triggers candidate status is discussed below.) Nevertheless, funds received and spent to test the waters are subject to the Act’s limits and prohibitions.2 Furthermore, financial records of testing-the-waters activities should be kept because, if the individual later becomes a candidate, the funds received and spent to test the waters will be considered contributions and expenditures. They will be reportable when the campaign files its first report. 11 CFR 100.72(a); 100.131(a); 101.3.

    For example, Mr. Jones is interested in running for Congress but is unsure whether he has enough support within his district to make a successful bid. He therefore accepts up to $2,300 from each of several friends to pay for an opinion poll. The results of the poll indicate good name recognition in the community, and Jones decides to run. On the first report Jones files after he becomes a candidate (i.e., after he either receives contributions or makes expenditures which exceed $5,000), his committee must report the donations from his friends as “contributions” and the costs of the poll as “expenditures.” Had Jones not become a candidate, there would have been no obligation to report these financial transactions, and the donations made to help pay for the poll would not have counted as contributions.

    So now he will have to report where all that money came from. Mr. Hsu, anybody?


    Reagan taught us that if you must sleep with a lazy ignorant actor don’t forget a condom.

    John Hanks, Laramie, Wyoming