Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thompson entry caps good week in presidential race

(Published 9/8/07)

It’s been a good week for political junkies watching the presidential race:

  • On the fall premiere of Ellen Degeneres’ wildly popular talk show, Democratic candidate and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton told the nation that she sometimes comes home to find her former president husband "rearranging the bookshelf" or cleaning up the kitchen. "He’s pretty handy to have around," she said.
  • Talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, whose support of Democratic candidate and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama last fall made him a top-tier candidate overnight, may take a larger role in his campaign. If so, one pundit said, the "congregants of the Church of Oprah" will help Obama compete with Clinton for the women’s vote.
  • Democratic candidate and former U.S. Sen. John "Don’t-I-Remind-You-of-Bobby-Kennedy" Edwards said that the U.S. needs "a counterterrorism policy that actually counters terrorism." It reminded me of Hyundai’s current "Duh!" ad campaign.
  • At a campaign event, a high school student asked U.S. Sen. John McCain whether voters should take his age – 71 – into account. McCain noted his high energy level, then said to laughter, "Thanks for the question, you little jerk. You’re drafted."
  • Lastly, former U.S. Sen. (wait, do you see a pattern here?) Fred Thompson finally made his candidacy official.
Thompson’s announcement was seemingly just what the other GOP contenders needed to find their hibernating personalities. After the last mind-numbingly boring debate, I began to wonder whether we were overdue to change the batteries in their robotic response generators.

Fox News Channel hosted a GOP debate in New Hampshire mere hours before Thompson’s announcement hit the airwaves Wednesday.

Thompson skipped it but was dominant even in absentia; moderators asked the candidates about him right out of the chute.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Thompson is the political version of "No-Show George," a reference to country singer George Jones.

Perhaps the candidates were up past Thompson’s bedtime, McCain joked.

"Why the hurry?" former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney mused. "Maybe January, February might be a better time to make a final decision about getting in this race."

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani offered, "I think he’s done a pretty good job of playing my part on ‘Law & Order.’"

During the debate, I realized that U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback reminds me of comedian and former Saturday Night Live cast member Norm MacDonald. (Remember the Jeopardy skit where MacDonald portrays Burt Reynolds? The resemblance is uncanny!) Also, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul reminded me of Ralph Nader: intelligent and articulate, but too far out on the fringe for mainstream voters.

McCain performed well throughout the debate and earned high marks especially for his commitment to veto pork-barrel spending as president.

But the focus this week was on the newest candidate. For his part, Thompson breezily brushed off Leno’s suggestion that he had waited too long to get in the race:

"I don’t think people are going to say, ‘You know, that guy would make a very good president, but he just didn’t get in soon enough,’" Thompson said. "If you can’t get your message out in a few months, you’re probably not ever going to get it out."

Voters have watched with a largely ho-hum response as the other candidates have spent money and taken shots at one another all summer. From the sidelines, Thompson has allowed himself to be made conservatives’ white horse; now that he’s in, time will tell whether he’ll be able to meet the sky-high expectations he’s cultivated.

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