Monday, October 08, 2007

Mark Towner's Spyglass Spots: Thompson on the Trail


Oct. 8, 2007

Since entering the 2008 presidential fray last month, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has admitted he's a "little rusty" when it comes to debating but he has also promised to do it "early and often." He'll make his debate debut in Michigan Tuesday, standing side-by-side with his GOP rivals for the first time.

The actor and lawyer was absent from last month's debate, which was attended by the wide field of Republican candidates, opting to upstage his party rivals that evening by instead announcing his candidacy on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Thompson also skipped a PBS-sponsored debate at Morgan State University, which the other leading GOP candidates -- former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain -- also missed.

The last time Thompson seriously prepped for election debates was more than a decade ago as a Tennessee senator. According to his campaign, to prepare for Tuesday's verbal sparring with the Republican pool, Thompson has been practicing at home in mock debate sessions with campaign advisers, including former New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, according to his campaign.
"He's never going to be as slick as some of the other candidates, or as politically correct as some of the other candidates. But he will be the most authentic," said Thompson communications director Todd Harris. "With Fred Thompson, what you see is what you get."
Thompson himself has been playing the expectations game by downplaying his much anticipated performance. At a press conference in Chicago last Thursday, Thompson spoke matter of factly, describing himself as someone who doesn't like to play by the rules.

"I'm just going to the best that I can. I am a little -- probably a little rusty -- on my sound bite responses," Thompson said. "I'm not used to playing by strict rules, you know, either on the Senate floor or in the courtroom or any place like that."

Indeed Thompson often chooses his own script in public appearances, which has caused several verbal missteps in his first weeks of his candidacy. In his folksy stump speeches, he speaks unguided by notes, often casting broad overviews of issues.