Backers want Thompson in White House race

WASHINGTON Tue Jul 31, 2007 5:54pm EDT

Former U.S. Senator and potential presidential candidate Fred Thompson (R-TN) speaks to a group of supporters during a luncheon at the Clarion Town House Hotel in Columbia, South Carolina June 27, 2007 file photo. Thompson needs to say in August if he is running for president because he has enjoyed about all the benefits he can expect from being a noncandidate, a key backer said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Former U.S. Senator and potential presidential candidate Fred Thompson (R-TN) speaks to a group of supporters during a luncheon at the Clarion Town House Hotel in Columbia, South Carolina June 27, 2007 file photo. Thompson needs to say in August if he is running for president because he has enjoyed about all the benefits he can expect from being a noncandidate, a key backer said on Tuesday.

Credit: Reuters/Chris Keane

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Fred Thompson needs to say in August if he is running for president because he has enjoyed about all the benefits he can expect from being a noncandidate, a key backer said on Tuesday.

The Hollywood actor turned White House contender announced he had raised more than $3.4 million in June -- less than the predicted $5 million -- for his presidential campaign-in-waiting, amid some concerns he has waited too long.

"The level of support and enthusiasm from people across this country is inspiring," said a statement from Thompson, who said donations came from 9,167 people from all 50 states.

The Democratic National Committee analyzed Thompson's statement, however, and said donations have tapered off since a spike in contributions in the days after he said he might run for president.

"Enthusiasm didn't last long. Donations peaked in a week," the DNC said.

Thompson's testing-the-waters phase has gone far beyond his original plans for a July 4 announcement and his candidacy to be the Republican nominee in the November 2008 election is now expected in September.

Tennessee Republican Rep. Zach Wamp, a key supporter of the 6-foot-6 conservative many Republicans are hoping will fill a void, said a September announcement speech by Thompson would be fine, but that the former U.S. senator from Tennessee needs to definitively say in August that he is a candidate.

He said Thompson is "approaching the apex of the benefits of being a noncandidate."

"His strategy and the use of noncandidate status has worked very much to his advantage to this point," Wamp said. "I believe we're approaching the point at which he needs to be a candidate -- I mean full-blown, 'I am running for president,' no holds barred."

Wamp said once Thompson says he is a candidate, the movie and television actor will be able to raise more money and pick up more endorsements from members of Congress beyond the two dozen Wamp has corralled for him.

"I've got horses in the gate like the Kentucky Derby and they've been there for a while. Horses in the gate are restless creatures. They've been stammerin' and snortin' and I don't want them spittin'," Wamp said.

Thompson's campaign, in announcing a staff shake-up last week, said it was preparing "to move on to another phase."

DOING WELL IN POLLS

Despite the delays, he has done relatively well in national public opinion polls, often placing second to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Fergus Cullen, chairman of the Republican Party in the early voting state of New Hampshire, said "it's not too late" for Thompson to enter the race, but noted it had been four weeks since the star of the hit U.S. "Law & Order" television show had last visited New Hampshire.

"I guess I'm surprised by it," he said.

With the New Hampshire primary expected to be in January, only five months away, Cullen said "at some point your elected officials and people who give endorsements and give a candidate credibility commit to another candidate."

An average of recent polls by realclearpolitics.com shows Thompson in a seemingly strong position, running in second place with 19.8 percent support behind Giuliani at 25.5 percent and ahead of Arizona Sen. John McCain at 13.5 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 10 percent.