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WASHINGTON — Republican Fred Thompson needs to say in August if he is running for president because he has enjoyed about all the benefits he can expect from being a noncandidate, a key backer said Tuesday.
The Hollywood actor turned White House contender announced he had raised more than $3.4 million in June — less than the predicted $5 million — for his presidential campaign-in-waiting, amid some concerns he has waited too long.
“The level of support and enthusiasm from people across this country is inspiring,” said a statement from Thompson, who said donations came from 9,167 people from all 50 states.
Thompson’s testing-the-waters phase has gone far beyond his original plans for a July 4 announcement and his candidacy to be the Republican nominee in the November 2008 election is now expected in September.
Tennessee Republican Rep. Zach Wamp, a key supporter of the 6-foot-6 conservative many Republicans are hoping will fill a void, said a September announcement speech by Thompson would be fine, but that the former U.S. senator from Tennessee needs to definitively say in August that he is a candidate.
He said Thompson is “approaching the apex of the benefits of being a noncandidate.”
“His strategy and the use of noncandidate status has worked very much to his advantage to this point,” Wamp said. “I believe we’re approaching the point at which he needs to be a candidate — I mean full-blown, ‘I am running for president,’ no holds barred.”
Wamp said once Thompson says he is a candidate, the movie and television actor will be able to raise more money and pick up more endorsements from members of Congress beyond the two dozen Wamp has corralled for him.
“I’ve got horses in the gate like the Kentucky Derby and they’ve been there for a while. Horses in the gate are restless creatures. They’ve been stammerin’ and snortin’ and I don’t want them spittin’,” Wamp said.
Thompson’s campaign, in announcing a staff shake-up last week, said it was preparing “to move on to another phase.”
Despite the delays, he has done relatively well in national public opinion polls, often placing second to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Fergus Cullen, chairman of the Republican Party in the early voting state of New Hampshire, said “it’s not too late” for Thompson to enter the race, but noted it had been four weeks since the star of the hit U.S. “Law & Order” television show had last visited New Hampshire.
“I guess I’m surprised by it,” he said.
With the New Hampshire primary expected to be in January, only five months away, Cullen said “at some point your elected officials and people who give endorsements and give a candidate credibility commit to another candidate.”
An average of recent polls by realclearpolitics.com shows Thompson in a seemingly strong position, running in second place with 19.8% support behind Giuliani at 25.5% and ahead of Arizona Sen. John McCain at 13.5% and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 10%.
Republican strategist and pollster Tony Fabrizio said he did not know whether the 64-year-old Republican who retired from the Senate in 2003 after serving eight years had waited too long.
But “every day that goes by where you’re not in the race is a lost fund-raising opportunity, a lost recruitment opportunity, a lost definitional opportunity, and your opponents get to continue their strategies unfettered,” Fabrizio said.
“I know that it takes time to put together a presidential campaign. But he has a problem now. The problem is the expectations have been raised so much by them, given the lead time they have taken to get into the race, that any missteps or any fumbles out of the gates are going to be magnified more than in a normal start-up,” he added.
Truman Bean, author of a popular blog called “Tennesseans for Thompson,” said grass-roots supporters are getting impatient but a September announcement would be fine.
“It’s just a matter of time until it gets going full throttle,” Bean said.
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