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Paul Hayden

Where've You Been, Fred?

January 14, 2008

In last Thursday night's Republican debate, we finally saw an engaged and even fired-up Fred Thompson. The question is whether Fred's sudden enthusiasm is another sad case of too little, too late.

Thompson saved most of his broadsides for Mike Huckabee, whose conservative bona-fides have been open to question due to positions he has taken on illegal immigration and foreign policy in particular. Thompson tapped this vein for all it was worth, and seemed to gain some traction from it. In some quarters, he was declared the winner, including Fox News pollster Frank Luntz's focus group. Unfortunately for Thompson, the winner according to Luntz in New Hampshire was Mitt Romney, and that didn't prevent John McCain's victory in that state.

On illegal immigration, Thompson has perhaps the toughest-and therefore most appealing to conservatives-position of any "viable" candidate (assuming Duncan Hunter is all but finished). His lines about high walls and wide open gates, with the gates opened only when we want them to be, were hits with the South Carolina voters who are rightly concerned about the illegal immigration problem in their state.

The Thompson candidacy has been described by media pundits as on life support for some time now. The candidate himself declares he is "all-in" for South Carolina, meaning that anything less than a strong finish may spell the end for him. He certainly cannot expect to do well in Michigan, where voters tend toward more moderate Republicans like McCain and where favorite son Romney is spending a lot of time and treasure. Also, by moving the primary date forward without national party permission, the Democrats have through their bickering left only Hillary Clinton on the ballot in Michigan. This means there may be significant crossover voting for McCain as there was in 2000 in the Great Lakes State.

Thompson should have learned from his fellow Tennessean Lamar Alexander that low-key, laid back campaigns for the presidency simply don't work. It would be a shame for conservatives if his recent surge of enthusiasm is not enough to keep his flickering candidacy alive.

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