Fred Thompson campaigns in Tampa Bay this weekend

09/14/07 Mitch E. Perry
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Fred Thompson, the newest entrant into the race for the Republican nomination for president, is campaigning in the Tampa Bay tonight and tomorrow.

Is the 65 year old actor ready for prime time?

In a taped interview to be broadcast on Bay News Sunday, Thompson shared his thoughts about the late Terri Schiavo, the comatose Pinellas Park woman and the controversy on whether to insert a feeding tube to keep her alive.

Thompson said local matters should usually be left to local authorities, but then confessed he didn’t know all the facts surrounding the case, and couldn’t pass judgment on it.

Daryl Paulson is a professor of political science at the University of South Florida, St Petersburg. He says it is understandable Thompson is rusty on some issues because he has been out of the political fray since he stepped down from the Senate a decade ago.

After "testing the waters" for several months, Thompson officially announced his candidacy just last week. It happened considerably later expected, and some analysts say he has gotten in too late.

Several columnists have not be kind to Thompson based on his first week on the trail. Gail Collins wrote in the New York Times on Thursday: “When it comes to overhyped underperformers, Thompson’s entry into the presidential race was right up there with Britney Spears at the MTV awards.”

Other critics have said Thompson could be this year’s Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme commander who had never ran for office before running for the Democratic nomination in 2003. Clark quickly showed his inexperience, and was never a serious factor in the race.

In Thompson’s case, there are questions about his energy levels. Newsweek magazine last week’s cover story showed him with the headline, “Lazy Like A Fox”.

Many Republican fundraisers in Florida hesitated before signing up to support Thompson for president. One of Tampa Bay’s biggest GOP rainmakers, Al Austin, signed on as finance committee co –chair just last week.

But with current polls showing most Americans would prefer to see a Democrat in the White House in 2008. Others say a “Ronald Reagan Conservative” such as Thompson is being portrayed, could be successful in the current political climate.

Rudy Guiliani doesn’t think so.

As the frontrunner in most polls in Florida, the former New York City mayor conceivably has the most to lose with Thompson’s entry into the race. Perhaps aware of that, Guiliani is now telling audiences that his moderate stances – such as on gay rights, gun control and abortion rights - might not make him a favorite candidate for conservatives now, but do make him more electable in a general election.

USF-St. Pete Political Science professor Daryl Paulson says Guiliani’s message about electability is dead on.

Fred Thompson speaks tonight in New Port Richey, at Pasco County’s Republican Reagan Day Dinner.

He’ll appear tomorrow morning at a gun show at the Lakeland Center in Lakeland around 11 a.m.

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