Fred Won't Quit after Iowa

The rumor that Fred Thompson will quit the Republican presidential race if he finishes poorly in Iowa is not only false: it rises to the level of a political dirty trick aimed at reducing Thompson-backers’ turnout in tonight’s Iowa caucuses.

The story, which began as a rumor and caught fire as a result of a piece in today’s Politico, said that Thompson was likely to quit after Iowa if he did poorly there, and might endorse Sen. John McCain before next week’s New Hampshire primary.  The article painted a glum, almost resigned mood among Thompson’s inner circle.  

Thompson and his top campaign advisor Rich Galen both denied the story’s claims today.

Which raises a number of questions about The Politico’s coverage.  The story, written by Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen, is apparently the result of a dirty trick by a competing campaign.  The story is a very odd one.  It cobbles together two unnamed sources: one a “Thompson advisor” and one a “campaign source” with Thompson’s own statement that he needed to finish second in Iowa. But Thompson’s statement — like many others from him lately — was a positive, energetic note on the Iowa race.  

According to one report, Thompson’s top campaign advisor Rich Galen said, “I’m a Republican official in the Thompson campaign, and I’m denying it." Galen is also reported to have said that no one inside the campaign was a source for the story. "I can’t put enough adjectives in front of the ‘deny’ to accurately describe how vehemently I’m denying the story."  That, and other statements by Thompson himself today, leaves the Politico’s story out in the cold.

Sources told me that Thompson’s campaign was already moving elements to South Carolina where they expect to do very well.  If Thompson finished at the bottom of the pack in Iowa — which seems very unlikely — he would have to reassess his overall chances.  But that seems unlikely.  And Iowa is not a determinative race for the Republicans. It is very likely to be of lesser importance than a host of others, as John McCain, Rudy Giuliani — and Thompson — are betting.  A candidate could easily go from a defeat there to win the nomination.  

So how does a story like the Politico’s get out?  Why did Politico’s skilled editors and reporters fall for that, and choose to put it out on the day turnout is the key to every campaign?  

In every political season, there are dirty tricks like this. Some originate from opposing camps and some from the media themselves. The Politico story is of the sort that even the television networks have managed to avoid.  Saying that Thompson is going to quit after Iowa on the morning of the caucuses there is like announcing the election night results in New York and the Carolinas before the polls close on the West Coast.  If even CBS News wouldn’t pull a stunt like that, why would The Politico?