Election 2008

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Actor and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson has been testing the waters for a possible Republican presidential bid. Today, we got the first financial measure of that test and you could say the waters are lukewarm. Thompson's campaign committee raised $3.4 million in June. Supporters call that inspiring.

But as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, it falls short of what some were forecasting just a few weeks ago.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Fred 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 did have to tell the IRS today 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.

Ms. LINDA ROZETT (Spokeswoman for Senator Fred Thompson): I think it shows an outpouring of support for Senator Thompson and what he is talking to people around the country about.

HORSLEY: 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.

Ms. ROZETT: That is not the goal of the testing the waters committee. The goal has always been to raise enough money to effectively test the waters and I think we have, and we have been vigorously doing so.

HORSLEY: Thompson is raising more money tonight at a $1,000-a-ticket reception in Orange County, California. State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, who's co-hosting the event, acknowledges some donors are reluctant to give until Thompson is officially 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.

Assemblyman CHUCK DEVORE (Republican, California State Assembly): You know, money is certainly a helpful yardstick, but it's not the only indicator of popularity or electability.

HORSLEY: 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 turnover and the revelation that he worked as a lobbyist for an abortion rights group.

Political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of USC adds that as his official campaign announcement has been pushed back from July 4 to around Labor Day, Thompson has seemed to lose momentum.

Ms. SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE (Political analyst, University of Southern California): This extended gestation period of the Thompson campaign is getting a little old.

HORSLEY: 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.

Ms. JEFFE: There's this adage in politics that a candidate is never so popular as he is on the day he declares. And I think that's part of what's driving Fred Thompson's popularity. He's not yet a candidate.

HORSLEY: Once he declares, Jeffe says, the water that Thompson has been testing could get a whole lot rougher.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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