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Sources: Thompson to take big step toward White House run

Story Highlights

• Fred Thompson "entering 'testing the waters' phase," source close to him says
• Ex-senator from Tennessee could begin raising money, hiring staff by Friday
• Thompson held conference call with more than 100 supporters Tuesday
• Source: Thompson has financial commitments from "big Republican donors"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson will take a major step toward a 2008 run for the White House by "testing the waters" -- beginning to raise money and hire campaign staff as early as Friday, several sources close to Thompson told CNN.

While the former senator from Tennessee is not an official candidate for president, he is acknowledging interest in the race for the Republican nomination.

Thompson is not required to file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission at this stage, but he would have to account for his actions during this initial phase should he decide to become a full-fledged candidate at a later date.

"He is entering the 'testing the waters' phase," said one of the sources close to Thompson. "It allows the senator to go out and gauge support."

Thompson, 64, held a conference call Tuesday night with more than 100 supporters and received financial commitments from "big Republican donors," the source said.

Thompson has been in contact with "a lot of Reagan and Bush 41 [George H.W. Bush]-types who are supportive" of his candidacy, another source with knowledge of Thompson's thinking said.

This source noted that Thompson likely will make appearances in some of the early primary and caucus states such as Iowa and New Hampshire before an official announcement.

"That announcement could come as early as the first week in July," the source close to Thompson said. "However, that is if he gets in."

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted May 4-6 placed Thompson third among GOP candidates with 13 percent of the vote. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had the most support with 25 percent, two percentage points ahead of Sen. John McCain's 23 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was fourth with 10 percent.

The same poll of registered Republican voters found 20 percent were very satisfied with the field of GOP candidates and 26 percent were not satisfied. Fifty percent said they were somewhat satisfied.

Thompson announced earlier this year that he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2004, but one of his physicians said that the disease is in remission.

Thompson was elected to the Senate in 1994 to fill the unexpired term of then-Vice President Al Gore and retired in 2003 to resume an acting career. He now lives in McLean, Virginia.

CNN's Candy Crowley, John Helton and Mark Preston contributed to this report.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson held a conference call Tuesday with more than 100 supporters, a source said.



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