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Thompson's Backers Unhappy With Fundraising

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Thompson's Backers Unhappy With Fundraising

Election 2008

Thompson's Backers Unhappy With Fundraising

Thompson's Backers Unhappy With Fundraising

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Former Sen. Fred Thompson, who's considering a formal run for the White House, reports raising $3.5 million dollars — short of the $5 million his camp had predicted. Some blame his delayed entry into the race; others consider the somber mood in the Republican Party.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the Republican presidential field yesterday was jolted by the fine print about Fred Thompson's finances. Thompson, who you might think is running but who hasn't formally entered the race for the White House, reported raising just three and half million dollars so far. That fell well short of the five million or more Thompson's camp had been predicting.

NPR political analyst Juan Williams joins us now to consider what this may mean for the former senator from Tennessee. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, you know, we've been hearing for months now that some big Republican donors were sitting on their wallets, if you will, in this campaign, waiting for someone to get in there that they could support. So they were supposed to be excited about Fred Thompson. What happened?

WILLIAMS: Well, good question, Renee. It's the same question that his campaign aides have been asking. Part of the answer circulating in Republican circles is that the Thompson campaign has not reached out with an effective message to the big donors. He needs money in the bank to keep his campaign going, especially in the early northern primary states where he hopes to do just well enough before heading south.

In national polls he is running second, far behind former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Thompson's strength is in the South among white male conservatives, so he needs enough cash to get to South Carolina and Florida, the first southern states that will be holding primaries, and do very well in those states.

At the moment, that kind of planning, coupled with the expectations that he was going to get a rousing reception, they become a weight around his neck as his opponents point to the lackluster fundraising as proof that there's no great store of hidden support for Thompson waiting to burst out.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, as a comparison, what about the other Republican candidates? How much have, say, the top three raised so far?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's fascinating because, you know, the leading fundraiser among Republicans is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, with more than 44 million, but much of that has come out of his own pocket, and Romney continues to trail badly in national polls with about eight percent support.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads in the polls, and one recent Washington Post poll had him as high as 37 percent. But in the last official report the mayor was second in fundraising, with about $36 million.

Senator McCain is in a virtual tie with Thompson in the polls, down around 16 percent. And Senator McCain's raised around $25 million.

MONTAGNE: So Fred Thompson's ability to raise money, at least so far, doesn't look too great. But how much is this a case of expectation set and - by the media or by his campaign?

WILLIAMS: Well, look, Renee, Thompson, you know, he scored very well in the polls for a man who has yet to formally launch his candidacy. He had planned to get into the race July 4th. Now it's looking like he's headed towards a September announcement. Fred-Heads, as his supporters call themselves, like to compare Thompson to another actor-politician, conservative icon Ronald Reagan. But right now, with these stumbles, you know, it's a matter of him not living up to his own expectations, and the stumbles have been caused by problems with his apparent lobbying for a pro-choice group and some stumbling also over tax policy.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR political analyst Juan Williams.

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Thompson's 'Test' Campaign Reports $3.4 Million

Thompson's 'Test' Campaign Reports $3.4 Million

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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.