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Thompson's 'virtual' campaign experiencing real bumps

  • Story Highlights
  • Fred Thompson's not expected to officially announce campaign until September
  • Tennessee Republican moving up in the polls and is in second place
  • Politico reports that Thompson only raised $3 million in June
  • "Law & Order" star is an attractive candidate to conservatives
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By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Have we been hearing good news or bad news about Fred Thompson's campaign? The answer is yes.

Or make that the "virtual campaign." Fred Thompson is not in the Republican race yet. He's still building an organization and raising money -- and hitting some bumps.

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Former Sen. Fred Thompson makes a campaign appearance in Dallas last week.

He keeps delaying his official announcement, now expected in September. Some staff members have quit.

Controversy has already arisen over the fact that Thompson once accepted a lobbying assignment for an abortion rights group. But his views and his Senate record are strongly anti-abortion, and has come out strongly against the "activist" judges that social conservatives rile against.

In June, Thompson called for "federal courts doing what they are suppose to do, not somebody else's job; not as social arbitrators of this nation."

The Politico is reporting that Thompson raised a little over $3 million in June, a figure that will disappoint his supporters.

Could Thompson be losing momentum before he even gets into the race? Maybe it's not him. Maybe it's us.

"We're paying so much more attention to these campaigns, so much earlier; to some degree, we may just never [have] really have followed [it like] this in prior years," said Republican strategist David Winston.

Thompson's not the only candidate who's hit some bumps. So has Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.

But McCain's been falling in the polls while Thompson is rising. Thompson has moved into second place, just behind former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani -- whose frontrunner standing is not very secure.

Winston said it is "unclear who is leading," and that candidate standings in the polls could remain "very fluid.''

Where's Thompson's support coming from?

Well, the "Law & Order" star is an entertainment celebrity with high name recognition.

But he also fills a need. A lot of Republicans who are supporting Thompson -- and they are heavily southern, male and conservative -- are looking for a conservative who's also a winner. And they don't see one, even though they already have nine candidate choices.

Like a good virtual candidate, Thompson has been spending a lot of time blogging and burnishing his conservative credentials online.

In May, he had this to say about immigration reform: "No matter how much lipstick Washington tries to slap onto this legislative pig, it's not going to win any beauty contests."

Many Republicans see the virtual candidate as a winner, but sooner or later he's going to have to become a real candidate.

"The one thing that I think he has done by the way he is ... putting it off until September, is that he is putting a lot of pressure in terms of that announcement speech -- What's the content? What's going to be in it?"

Thompson is holding his first Washington fundraiser Monday where he has to raise real, not virtual, dollars. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About U.S. Republican PartyFred Thompson

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