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As recently as last week, for instance, McCain secured the backing of conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who himself had his sights on 2008, while Giuliani won over moderate GOP Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.). Brownback’s support for McCain was designed to show the Arizona Republican — who has fallen behind in the polls — can curry favor with conservatives.
But Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), the GOP Conference chairman and another Thompson supporter, said those exceptions notwithstanding, he believes “endorsements have pretty well wrapped up.”
“Here we are, two months out from Iowa,” Putnam said. “The presidential candidates ought to be a lot more focused on Des Moines than D.C. That should be where his campaign is focused. That’s where my energy would be focused.”
Indeed, Thompson has been investing his resources there, beginning a major television surge in Iowa last week, and keeping focus on the South — where a Tennessean is likely to have a head start over his northern GOP rivals. And while Thompson ranks second on average in most national surveys, he is in fourth place in the first caucus state of Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and third in South Carolina, according to RealClearPolitics poll averages.
But those numbers aren’t discouraging to Thompson’s Congressional allies, many of whom argued last week that he’s just beginning to gain campaign steam. Thompson entered the race on Sept. 5, months after deliberating over the bid, and long after the now-frontrunners entered the hunt.
“I love his position,” Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said. “If you look at his favorable ratings versus his unfavorable, he is comfortable. He is setting his stride.”
Asked whether Thompson’s lack of recent Congressional support translates into a lack of enthusiasm for the candidate, Wamp responded: “Congress is in such low esteem, you don’t really want the support of Congress.”
Thompson spent the bulk of the past six years working as an actor on the hit television series Law & Order. That media presence, coupled with his conservative credentials and solid campaign resources will translate into a victory, his House and Senate backers said.
One ally said Thompson’s debate presence is ever-improving, his organization is coming together and his “road show is getting better.” This Republican said that while endorsements are “nice” and certainly “not irrelevant,” they aren’t going to do much to advance his candidacy in the early primary contests.
“Not to minimize the role of a Senator, but it doesn’t necessarily carry much weight in Iowa,” this Thompson devotee said.
Alexander agreed, arguing that he believes even though Thompson entered the race late and has trailed in some of the early states, his campaign is gaining, not losing, momentum.
“Fred always does a little better with the people than he does with the second-guessers,” Alexander said. “He runs his campaigns [with] his own style, in his own way and at his own pace.”
Thompson long has had a reputation for marching to his own beat, not only with the 2008 presidential bid, but also in his previous campaigns. In 1994 for instance, Thompson was slow to enter the Senate race but ended up mounting a historic victory over then-frontrunner Rep. Jim Cooper (D).