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Thompson scolded for tardiness

August 29, 2007 | 12:12 pm

The Manchester Union Leader is no longer the awesome force in New Hampshire that it once was, but it remains a voice to be reckoned with -- especially on the Republican side of the political fence. And in an editorial today attracting a fair amount of attention, the newspaper sends a pointed message to Fred Thompson: Enough, already, with tap-dancing on the periphery of the GOP presidential race.

The opening paragraph lays it on the line: "Fred Thompson has flirted from afar with Republican voters for long enough. It's time for him to accept a date. And there is no better first date than the New Hampshire Republican Party's presidential debate on Sept. 5."

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

The Union Leader, as proudly protective as any New Hampshire institution of the state's sacred-cow status in the nominating process, has a vested interest in wanting Thompson onstage ...

when the announced Republican contenders gather for next week's debate. His presence -- and the chance it would offer to gauge how he measures up to the rest of the field -- would give the forum a huge buzz at a time when so many other states are trying to grab a piece of the early campaign pie.

Still, the editorial reflects the growing discontent among those who once viewed Thompson as a potential godsend in a muddled GOP race. It was in mid-March that The Times and other newspapers wrote about the enthusiasm generated within GOP circles by early talk of a Thompson candidacy. Because he was starting from scratch in building a campaign, he got cut a lot of slack as spring came and went and he remained on the sidelines. But his continued delay in officially entering the fray may have seriously undercut his prospects, as this blog posting earlier this week makes clear.

Thompson hardly is helping his case with his most recent comments on the pace he's set for himself. At the Minnesota State Fair on Monday, as reported in a story that captures the odd quality of his unofficial campaign, he asserted the following: "The history books say that campaigns usually don't start until September or October, but the pundits said they wanted to change the rules this time. I wasn't in the room when they changed the rules.... I'm going by my own rules."

To be polite, the remark makes one wonder what planet Thompson has been living on in recent times.

First off, we don't recall any "pundits" declaring that this cycle's race should break from the gate so early; it was eager candidates, such as Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who made that move.

Second, Thompson needs to reread the history books he refers to. By this time in 2003, the Democratic race had been in full swing for several months (with President Bush seeking reelection, there was no GOP contest). And at this point in 1999, both parties were fully engaged in the nomination battles (indeed, among Republicans, one candidate -- Lamar Alexander -- already had folded his tent while another -- Dan Quayle -- was on the cusp of dropping out).

Thompson may not care much for the script that presidential campaigns are following -- in that, he's got plenty of company. But he can't rewrite it as easily as he may have been able to do on the set of "Law & Order."

-- Don Frederick

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