Actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has been testing the waters for a possible presidential bid. Tuesday brought the first financial measure of that test: lukewarm.
Thompson's campaign committee raised $3.4 million in June. Supporters call that "inspiring." But it falls short of what some were forecasting just a few weeks ago.
Thompson hasn't faced the same financial disclosure deadlines as the other White House candidates because he's not yet officially in the race. But he does have to tell the IRS how much his "testing the waters" committee raised. Spokeswoman Linda Rozett says the committee got money from more than 9,000 people and from all 50 states.
"I think it shows an outpouring of support for Sen. Thompson and what he is talking to people around the country about," Rozett says.
The $3.4 million Thompson raised in June is more than some official Republican candidates raised in the whole second quarter. But it's less than the $5 million some Thompson backers were publicly hoping for. Rozett insists that number was never realistic.
"That is not the goal of the testing the waters committee," she says. "The goal has always been to raise enough money to effectively test the water. And I think we have, and we have been vigorously doing so."
Thompson is raising more money Tuesday night at a $1,000-a-ticket reception in Orange County, Calif. State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, who's co-hosting the event, acknowledges some donors are reluctant to give until Thompson has officially entered in the race. On the flipside, he says, Thompson is spending far less money than Republican rivals Mitt Romney and John McCain, while outperforming them in national polls.
"You know, money is certainly a helpful yardstick, but it's not the only indicator of popularity or electability," DeVore says.
Some Republicans favor Thompson as a reliable Southern conservative in an uncertain field, likening him to another actor-politician: Ronald Reagan.
But Thompson has struggled recently with staff turnovers and the revelation that he worked as a lobbyist for an abortion-rights group.
Political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California says that, as Thompson pushed his official campaign announcement back from July 4 to around Labor Day, he has seemed to lose momentum.
"This extended gestation period of the Thompson campaign is getting a little old," Jeffe says.
Still, she says, the testing the waters phase has allowed Thompson to avoid until now not only financial scrutiny, but also the rough and tumble of a full-fledged presidential campaign.
"There's this adage in politics that a candidate is never so popular as he is on the day he declares," she says. "And I think that's part of what's driving Fred Thompson's popularity. He's not yet a candidate."
Once he declares, Jeffe says, the water that Thompson has been testing could get a whole lot rougher.