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Fred Thompson, missing in action in N.H.

January 8, 2008 |  3:48 pm

Manchester, N.H. -- With the focus of the political universe on New Hampshire today, Fred Thompson could be found in ... South Carolina.

Thompson's absence was his final bow to what long had been apparent -- he didn't take to the Granite State, and it most assuredly did not take to him. Indeed, the Tennessean pretty much sealed his poor political fate here on the day he officially entered the Republican presidential race.

As you may recall, Thompson traveled to beautiful downtown Burbank in early September to announce his candidacy during an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Problem was, from the point of view of many New Hampshirites, his gambit meant he wasn't on stage for a GOP debate that night in the state.

He made a few forays into New Hampshire during the weeks that followed, but his message, his style and his drawl never gained traction. As his campaign proceeded -- and the weather turned cold in Iowa (where he also put his efforts also were somewhat cursory) and New Hampshire -- Thompson increasingly focused on the South, occasionally joking to his listeners that he felt more comfortable stumping in places where voters sounded like him.

He was in New Hampshire this past weekend, mainly because ...

he couldn't avoid it -- it would have been bad form for him to skip the nationally-televised GOP debates conducted here Saturday and Sunday nights. But if he engaged in any of the "retail," person-to-person politicking so important to success in the state's primary, it went unnoticed.

His appearances today included a "Meet Fred Thompson" event at Hudson's Smokehouse in Lexington, S.C., and a similar stop in Columbia, S.C. He minced no words at the barbecue joint: "This is where we make our stand -- this is where I have chosen to make my stand," the Associated Press reported he said of South Carolina.

On Wednesday, he continues a lengthy bus tour through the state.

Back in June, when Thompson was coyly sitting on the sidelines but the buzz surrounding him was substantial, polls showed he had real potential as a national candidate. But he has since concentrated on being a regional one -- looking for strong showings in South Carolina's Jan. 19 GOP primary and Florida's Jan. 29 contest to chart a path to his party's nomination.

It's a high-risk route he's embarked upon. Much to his surprise, Thompson now has to counter another Southerner -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- as the Republican race moves into the region. He'll also face a potentially resurgent John McCain, the well-organized Mitt Romney, a Ron Paul movement with brigades of passionate followers in South Carolina, and a Rudy Giuliani campaign ready to fight tooth-and-nail in Florida.

Who's to say, though, that in this most unpredictable of GOP races, his version of a Southern strategy won't work?

-- Don Frederick

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