Fred Thompson climbed up the ladder of high expectations last night at the Republican debates. Thompson's recent poll numbers have dipped slightly from what they were before he officially entered the presidential race.
This happens with every candidate: once they officially enter the arena, they get closer scrutiny from the press and public alike. Powerline's winners in the debate last night were Fred Thompson and John McCain. Their take follows:
The Republican candidates had another debate tonight, this one in Florida on Fox. The Fox people came up with a novel approach to attacking the candidates. Instead of having their folks do it, after the fashion of Chris Matthews or (less sickeningly) Tim Russert, Fox "privatized" the job, attempting to induce the candidates to go after each other.
Thompson's ability to slug it out with Giuliani, coupled with overall improvement in the quality of his answers, makes him one of tonight's winners. The other major winner was John McCain. McCain brought the house down when he criticized Hillary Clinton for supporting the Woodstock memorial museum. McCain acknowledged that Woodstock must have been "a cultural and pharmaceutical event," but noted that he couldn't make it because he "was tied up at the time." McCain got off another great line when asked if President Bush had been naive when it came to Vladimir Putin. McCain said he didn't know about that, but when he (McCain) looked into Putin's eyes (he probably meant to say soul) he saw three letters, K-G-B. In addition to the one-liners, McCain gave sensible and concise answers on a range of issues.
Jim Geraghty at National Review had it somewhat differently, but still saw Thompson as one of the winners:
Fred Thompson: Frankly, he needed it. He really should have gotten a bigger chunk of the vote at the Family Research Council summit straw poll, and let’s face it, we had been waiting for any speech, any debate appearance, any event with Thompson to be a “wow, that was fantastic.” Well, tonight was that moment we’ve been waiting for, maybe none better than his answer to Wendell Goler’s question/accusation of laziness. His answer on the lobbying for the abortion group was strong, too – ‘look at my votes, and the pro-choice folks I worked for are pulling this out now because they fear me.’ Finally – finally! – we’re seeing what we wanted to see in Thompson – homespun, able to make his case simply, directly, and clearly, and with a bit of humor here and there.
It's been a popular view lately in some quarters to discount Thompson: he hasn't raced up the polling charts, his speeches haven't made non-supporters swoon or whatever. Most of these comments have come from supporters of other candidates; a few have some from disinterested sources.
The Van der Galien Gazette summed it up nicely:
It seems to me that people are ‘impressed’ by Thompson whenever he wakes up and says something. Anything.
Few remember that at this point in 2004, some pundits were screaming that Howard Dean was "unstoppable" and that his campaign juggernaut was going to roll over all opposition. The results six months later were somewhat different. It's a long way til Election Night 2008. All candidates will experience ups and downs: Thompson is no different. Last night was a definate "up" in a long campaign.
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