Fred Dalton Thompson, the sometimes politician, sometimes actor and last to enter the Republican race for President, will be the first one to drop out after tonight’s Iowa caucus if he finishes poorly and all indications show that he will come in near the bottom.

Republican insiders tell Capitol Hill Blue Thompson will withdraw before the New Hampshire primary and endorse John McCain.

“He’s finished,” said a longtime GOP consultant working in Iowa. “His campaign was finished before it even began.”

If Thompson withdraws, it means a bitter defeat for celebrity consultant Mary Matalin, the GOP firebrand married to Democratic consultant James Carville. The Thompson race was supposed to be Matalin’s re-entry into the world of Republican power brokers. His withdrawal will send her back to the talk show circuit where she and her husband comprise a two-person political comedy act.

“Mary blew this race big time,” says another GOP consultant. “She’s more interested in being a celebrity than in getting Republicans elected.”

The handwriting began to appear on the wall in December when Matalin canceled several appearances for Thompson in Iowa and the campaign scaled back on ads and activities.

Thompson entered the race as the great white hope for GOP conservatives. The former Senator from Tennessee was considered a high-profile campaigner but he proved to be too little too late and something of a lazy candidate.

“He thought this was Hollywood where he could sit in his trailer and then come on for the big scene,” says one GOP insider. “He didn’t want to work that hard and the result shows.”

Thompson’s old television series, Law & Order, premiered a new season on NBC Wednesday night, without him playing New York District Attorney Arthur Branch. Thompson left the series because he planned to run for President. Now the former actor will soon be a former candidate.

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