Opinion: BREAKING NEWS: Fred Thompson ambles back to the sidelines


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Republican Fred Thompson dragged his feet getting into the presidential race, much to his detriment. He moved more expeditiously getting out of it, issuing a simple, three-sentence statement today announcing -- to no one’s surprise -- that he was ending his candidacy.

Thompson bowed to what became inevitable after his third-place showing in Saturday’s South Carolina primary. Less than an hour after the polls closed that night, when it was already evident he would be an also-ran, Thompson addressed his supporters in the state -- remarks that walked right up to a withdrawal but stopped just short of it. Since then, he has been absent from the campaign trail.


Some of his higher-profile backers had jumped ship before Thompson officially abandoned it. Earlier today, ex-New York Sen. Al D’Amato -- who like many Republican leaders had not so many months ago viewed Thompson as the candidate who could magically cure what ailed the GOP presidential field -- switched allegiance to John McCain. (D’Amato seems mainly motivated this campaign season to sidetrack fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani, long a political foe.)

Thompson entered the White House race with a semi-splash, you’ll recall, using the couch on ‘The Tonight Show With Jay Leno’ to proclaim his candidacy in early September. But by that time, the bloom was already off his rose. His clear interest in running -- and efforts to generate support for such a bid by his longtime political mentor, Howard Baker, and other respected Republicans -- had been a hot topic ...

in the political world throughout the spring.

But Thompson dithered. He started acting like a candidate but avoided formally becoming one. By the late summer, his flirtation had grown oh-so-old (and spurred growing criticism). And his decision to choose the ‘Tonight Show’ venue to make his move turned out to be a misstep. While he was in Burbank, the other Republican contenders were in New Hampshire for a debate, and Thompson’s snub of that gathering was never forgiven by many in the Granite State.

Thompson leaves the race having secured all of five convention delegates and amid speculation that at some point he’ll endorse McCain (a Senate colleague in the 1990s). But he never developed much of a cadre of committed supporters, so those who were leaning his way in upcoming primaries may well scatter to different candidates. A state senator in Georgia who had been backing him, for instance, on Monday switched to Mitt Romney.

When the book on the ’08 campaign is written, Thompson will be mainly remembered for providing an object lesson in how not to mount a campaign.

For the record, here are his tallies in the GOP contests to date:

-- Iowa, 13%

-- Wyoming, 25%

-- New Hampshire, 1%

-- Michigan, 4%

-- Nevada, 8%

-- South Carolina, 16%.

-- Don Frederick