Thompson Drops Out of Presidential Race
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Fred Thompson dropped his presidential bid Tuesday, after the former Tennessee senator and actor finished third in the South Carolina primary and was unable to score a victory in any of the early primaries or caucuses.
“Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people,” Thompson said in a statement.
Prior to his public statement, the GOP candidate had begun calling friends, family members and supporters to tell them he was ending his campaign, four months after he formally announced his White House bid, a run that was greeted much more enthusiastically before he actually got into the race.
Thompson left Nashville Tuesday afternoon for McLean, Va., where he was expected to make a formal announcement as early as Tuesday night.
Aides said Thompson sent an e-mail Monday telling them he was still undecided about whether to stay in the race. But with no plans to campaign in Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 29, or to participate in a Republican debate Thursday, his staffers expected him to withdraw.
The attorney and actor seemed on the verge of bowing out Saturday during his post-election address in Columbia, S.C., after it became evident he would not finish better than third in South Carolina.
Telling his supporters to “stand strong,” he said, “We will always be bound by a close bond, because we have traveled a very special road together for a very special purpose. You know, it’s never been about me. It’s never even been about you. It’s been about our country and the future of our country … And because of your efforts and because of our working together, our party is being required to look itself in the mirror, decide where it’s going, decide who it is.”
Thompson prided himself as a consistent conservative in Ronald Reagan’s image, and stepped up that assertion in the days preceding the vote in South Carolina, where he said he drew “a line in the sand” for his campaign.
Along the way he fielded criticism that he appeared lazy and generally disinterested in becoming president, Thompson did earn positive reviews for a series of debate performances last fall and earned an endorsement by the National Right to Life Committee.
But the momentum behind his delayed entrance into the race — and several missed cues on issues from the right-to-life for Terri Schiavo to Usama bin Laden — steadily diminished as his GOP rivals racked up victories in early test states. Poll averages showed the Thompson went from second place nationally in early September to fifth this week.
Thompson came to Washington as a 30-year-old attorney appointed to be minority counsel for his mentor, former Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee, who was the top Republican on the Senate Watergate Committee.
He earned fame when he asked a question of which he already knew the answer — whether deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield knew that his boss, President Nixon, had been secretly taping White House conversations.
Several years later while practicing law in Tennessee, Thompson represented Marie Ragghianti, the head of the Tennessee Parole Board who was fired after exposing a pardon-selling scheme involving aides for then-Gov. Ray Blanton. Thompson played himself in the 1985 movie “Marie” based on the episode and got generally positive reviews.
The film launched Thompson’s acting career. Among his many characters, he played President Ulysses S. Grant in this year’s made-for-TV movie “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” and the fictional President Charles Ross in the 2005 film “Last Best Chance.”
His departure only nominally thins the field in the GOP race, where no breakaway front-runner has emerged. John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney have each won at least one major early state contest, and Rudy Giuliani has dug deep into Florida, fighting hard to prosper in that state’s primary.
Thompson did not endorse anybody in his statement Tuesday.
As for Thompson’s future, speculation is rampant that he could be angling for vice president. Such a move would follow the lead of another former Tennessee senator, Al Gore, whom Thompson replaced in the Senate in 1994 after Gore became vice president.
Thompson senior adviser Rich Galen told FOX News Radio Monday, “It may well be that Thompson is a vice presidential candidate, carrying the message to fill whatever hole there may be in the conservative credentials of whoever the nominee is.”
FOX News’ Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.