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Fred Thompson shows some life

January 10, 2008 |  7:02 pm

The muddled Republican presidential race has been marked by a series of ever-shifting, one-on-one battles. And tonight, during the debate in South Carolina, the latest of those skirmishes emerged: Fred Thompson vs. Mike Huckabee.

During the spring and summer and part of the fall, when for fundraising and organizational purposes candidates were pitching their appeals to a national audience, the two most frequently circling one another were Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. As the Iowa caucuses neared -- and Huckabee's support surged there -- Romney shifted gears and took after Huckabee. In the fight for New Hampshire, the key combatants were Romney and John McCain.

Thompson is notably absent from this list. He needs to enlarge his presence in the GOP race, and South Carolina is where he wants to do it. And it was clear tonight he sees Huckabee as the fellow he needs to take down to do that.

Thompson made a point of using an inside-the-Beltway question about whether the Reagan coalition still exists that had been directed to Huckabee to launch an attack on him. He obviously was waiting for such a moment -- as he criticized Huckabee on a litany of specifics, he was looking at notes.

Thompson summed up his case -- and probably signaled the gist of the argument he will be using against Huckabee leading up to South Carolina's Jan. 19 GOP primary -- by accusing the former Arkansas governor of sounding like a Democrat in foreign policy and on some domestic issues.

Huckabee, as is his wont, responded with a quip: "The Air Force has a saying that says that if you're not catching flak, you're not over the target. I'm catching the flak, I must be over the target."

-- Don Frederick