NH Frustrated With Fred?

Yesterday rumors abounded that Fred Thompson would make the long-awaited announcement that he is seeking the Republican nomination for president. But as it turned out, Thompson only announced that he will make the big announcement on September 6. (Hey, I’m not pushing it; I’m the one who was told flatly by a top operative with the Tennessean’s unannounced campaign that he would make it official August 8th.)

As a result, there is some mounting frustration from New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary in ’08. Just two days ago, in its lead editorial, the Manchester Union Leader weighed in strongly about the 65-year-old former senator and television actor’s vagueness about just when he will announce and whether he will participate in the next debate of GOP presidential hopefuls September 5th (at the University of New Hampshire).

“If Thompson waits until after the debate to make his announcement,” said the Union-Leader editorial “it will appear to some as if he timed the announcement just to avoid the New Hampshire debate. That would give his foes the chance to say he is either not serious about running for the nomination or is too unprepared to be considered a credible candidate.”

The U-L salvo was followed this morning by similar pique from New Hampshire Republican Chairman Fergus Cullen, whom I caught up with in Wolfeboro(N.H.) as he was preparing to coach some cross-country runners from a local high school. (“I love politics,” Cullen tells me, “and I love coaching.”).

“If the Union Leader sounded frustrated with Fred Thompson, they may well be,” Cullen told me, “and they’re not alone.”

According to the party chairman, “I hear all the rumors you do — Fred Thompson may get in the race Monday, Tuesday, but he may not get in the debate. Look, we know no better than anyone else. We have had zero contact with anyone in the Thompson campaign, zero communication with them.

“It’s pretty thin gruel from him that we’ve had to eat.”

Cullen went on to point out that there are a number of Granite State Republicans who are “anxious” to volunteer for a Thompson presidential campaign. But, he said, “They say that the national Thompson headquarters ‘treats us like mushrooms, keeps us in the dark, and feeds us manure.”

Perhaps Fred Thompson will give his admirers in New Hampshire something more than “thin gruel” — or “manure” when he announces his candidacy next week. But why is he waiting until after the debate?

It had to finally happen.  Just as the Manchester Union-Leader and New Hampshire State GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen were voicing their irritation with Fred Thompson for delaying his formal declaration for President (and, presumably, ducking the debate the University of New Hampshire September 5th), the former Tennessee senator’s camp put out the word:  he would make it official on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” Wednesday, September 5th, trying to steal the scene from the eight participants in the debate earlier that evening.

Thompson and his political team sent out the word in a nationwide conference call with supporters at 4:00 PM yesterday.  A planned press call scheduled for 4:30 was canceled.  Sources told me that the 65-year-old Thompson would follow his announcement with Leno by making a three-day tour of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida and would soon begin naming his campaign chairmen in various states.  One putatively expected to be named is Lt. Governor Peter Kinder of Missouri, who accompanied Thompson during his last visit to the Show-Me State and was the first elected official outside Tennessee to endorse the former senator.

Recalling a fund-raising event at the home of LaDue lawyer Tom Walsh, once a law partner with former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Kinder told me that “there were a lot of people there I didn’t know”—a sign that Thompson, at least in Missouri, is attracting fresh support.

A footnote: All right.  Soon Fred Thompson will be like all the other candidates—official, under more intense media scrutiny, and (presumably) participating in debates.  How he will fare only time will tell.  But given the mixed signals he is sending—and the resultant frustration among potential backers that New Hampshire’s Cullen expressed to me—one has to wonder what the candidate and his campaign are thinking in their embryonic stages. 

Put another way: a friend of mine who knows his military history told me how “Ronald Reagan wasn’t the great communicator—Ulysses S. Grant was.  During the entire Civil War, he never had a single order misunderstood.”  As someone who once played U.S. Grant on a television drama, Fred Thompson might take heed of that. 

Michigan Primary January 15. . . .For Now

OK.  It finally happened.  In what many call a mad race to be first in the ’08 presidential race, the Michigan House of Representatives voted today to approve moving the state’s presidential primary to January 15th.  That means that it has leapfrogged over South Carolina (at last word, scheduled for January 19th) and Nevada (also scheduled for January 19th). And this has forced Iowa and New Hampshire — their respective first-in-the-nation caucuses and presidential primary scheduled for January 14th and January 22nd — to make a similar move. 

As if to complicate things, Wyoming Republicans are now in the process of beginning their caucus/convention process for presidential delegates to January 5th.

At this rate, Iowa and New Hampshire may actually be holding their historic “starter” contests on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day!

But, even with Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm expected to sign the primary bill, nothing is in cement.  Many in her own Democratic Party want a caucus process (as they had in 2000 and ’04) rather than a primary as it would enhance the powers of organize labor and keep Republicans from crossing over and making mischief (Michigan has no party registration, and voters can request a ballot for either the Republican or Democratic presidential field when a primary is held; in 1972, with no contest on the GOP side, normally Republican voters help George Wallace win a handsome victory and seven years ago, when Democrats held a caucus and Republicans a primary, John McCain upset George W. Bush in part because Democrats crossed over to embarrass Bush’s state campaign chieftain, then-Gov. John Engler).

Perhaps most significantly, national Democrats punish state parties that move their nomination mechanism ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire,  On August 25, the Democratic National Committee Rules Committee voted to take away Florida’s 210 delegates to the national convention in Denver for moving their primary to January 29th.  Based on this ruling, Michigan could lose all of its delegates as well.  (Republicans, believing in federalism and state’s rights, have no penalization for state parties changing their dates for delegate selection).

Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis — whose party organization has devised a caucus-convention mechanism in case a primary would not be held—told me he would agree to a primary January 15th if Democrats also agreed to it. 

“Republicans, Democrats, Independents — anyone can request a ballot and vote in which party primary he or she chooses,” said Anuzis.

Prior to the vote, the hottest rumor in Lansing was that Democratic lawmakers would try to attach a statewide initiative weakening the state’s tough term limits legislation (three two-year terms for state representatives and two four-year terms for senators and no return tenures after serving).  But all amendments on measures not related to the primary were beaten back.


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