The Note: Make Room for Fred

The Republican presidential race is about to get much more interesting. It might even be enough to divert some eyes from the raging war over the future of the Republican Party.

Former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., is set to announce a "testing the waters" committee in the coming days, a Thompson adviser tells the New York Sun's Ryan Sager. That's a step before an exploratory committee (how does one explore exploratory options?), and it imposes some restrictions on what Thompson can say or do as a not-yet candidate. But if there was any doubt -- and there wasn't much of it left -- well, Mitt, Rudy, John, and the gang are going to have to make some room.

Politico's Mike Allen reports this morning that a formal Thompson announcement for president is expected around July 4, by which time he can boast of "already [having] raised several million dollars," and he will be able to claim the backing of "insiders from the past three Republican administrations."

A GOP source tells ABC News that the Thompson camp has asked potential donors to date checks for June 4 -- which would plop the creation of his fund-raising entity between Thompson's weekend speech in Richmond and Tuesday's Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire. That would mean a 6-foot-6 shadow will loom larger than ever the next time the Republican candidates gather in one place.

For clues as to why this is happening -- why a party with a full slate of perfectly good governors and members of Congress (not to mention a certain former mayor) is casting about for another option -- Jeffrey Goldberg's New Yorker take on the "Republican implosion" is worth the read.

If you're scoring at home, Goldberg has Dick Armey attacking Tom DeLay, who blasts Newt Gingrich, who slams Karl Rove (while comparing the Bush presidency to Jimmy Carter's -- now them's fightin' words!). Gingrich, R-Ga., offers a hint at what his presidential campaign might look like by making clear what it would NOT resemble: what Rove designed for Bush in 2004. Rove's run-to-the-base strategy, Gingrich says, was "maniacally dumb" because it ensured that the president would not be able to govern effectively. "The second-order effect is that you drive away the center because you become more and more strident at the base," Gingrich told Goldberg.

One more item worth mentioning in this vein: President Bush used his speech in Georgia to sharply criticize conservative critics of the immigration bill: "If you want to scare the American people, what you say is the bill's an amnesty bill," the president said. The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg calls it "a rare case of the president's taking on the coalition that helped him win and keep the Oval Office." It also puts Bush at sharp odds with much of the GOP presidential field -- Thompson included -- though Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is a main sponsor of the bill.

On the Democratic side, it's a week for policy proposals. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., battling the campaign narrative that casts him as a legislative lightweight, unveiled his long-awaited healthcare plan yesterday in Iowa to mixed reviews. The "centrist plan" "is not quite as sweeping as that offered by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards," and the Edwards camp quickly labeled it as "simply inadequate" because it doesn't require universal coverage, John McCormick and Mike Dorning report in the Chicago Tribune.

Obama's lesson: Hope doesn't pay for healthcare -- taxes do. And the "white papers" Obama has derided are harder to sell than optimism. The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr. write that Obama's plan "in many ways resembles the ideas of some of his challengers." They write: "The lack of new ideas in Obama's health plan in part reflects his approach. He has emphasized his freshness as a rationale for his candidacy, but that freshness has been much more about his tone and his rhetoric about hope and bipartisanship than his policy proposals."

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., meanwhile, uncorked some of her husband's old economic populism yesterday in New Hampshire. "I think a lot of people would like to go back six years and push the restart button on the 21st Century, and do it all over again the right way," Clinton said, as she vowed to "outlaw special favors to big business," the Union Leader's Tom Fahey writes.

One person who wouldn't mind turning back the clock is Al Gore, who was in Washington yesterday to promote his new book. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank plumbs the book's depths to find clues to Gore's political ambitions. Campaign treatise it's not, Milbank writes: "Imagine the Iowa hog farmer cracking open 'Assault on Reason,' and meeting Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Lippmann, Johannes Gutenberg, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson and Marshall McLuhan -- all before finishing the introduction."

Another almost-hint from Gore last night on MSNBC: "I really don't expect to be a candidate again. But here we are 500 days or so before the next election -- I don't see why everybody has to close the doors and say, OK, let's narrow the field and make your bets."

Gore also told ABC's Teddy Davis and A'Melody Lee that he would have joined Obama and Clinton in voting against the Iraq funding bill the Senate passed last week. Not a shocker for a man who was against the war from the start, but what does it say that he's answering questions like this at all?

More from the department of Republican turmoil: David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network reports on "a growing network of activists who are starting to take pro-active steps to shoot down a Giuliani nomination." They are threatening to support a third-party candidate if Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., wins the Republican nomination, and are circulating a flyer stating that nominating Giuliani would mean the Republican Party has "lost all purpose:" "It will be time to put the GOP out of its misery," flyer states.

Giuliani continues to take hits from all sides. Yesterday it was firefighters and families of 9/11 victims protesting outside two of his four birthday fund-raisers in New York, and they "did their best to disrupt the festivities by raising questions about Giuliani's decision-making," the Daily News' David Saltonstall reports. The latest sign of the new Rudy: "There isn't any part of me at all that resents it," Giuliani told reporters in Queens.

It looks like Clinton and Obama are about to hear a lot more about their votes against war funding. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., told a Des Moines Register editorial board that his Senate colleagues used to believe -- like he still does -- that it would be wrong to cut off funding for troops while they're deployed in a war zone, but that the other presidential candidates "changed their mind . . . to make a point." Smells like a debate line in the making -- and Biden only has to wait until Sunday to deliver it.

As for those Democrats who voted for war funding, they've got the netroots to deal with, as a sampling of liberal blogs makes clear. Writes Jonathan Kaplan in The Hill, "liberal online activists have ripped party leaders and threatened to halt contributions to Democratic lawmakers."

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Robert Zoellick isn't running into Wolfowitz-level opposition at the World Bank (though, in fairness, he won't be formally named until today). But The Washington Post's Peter S. Goodman sees trouble ahead for Zoellick: "the insider credentials that make Zoellick favored in the Bush White House, where loyalty carries enormous weight, could work against him at the bank as they did with his predecessor."

The kicker:

"What did he doodle? He doodled what his perception was of the people who ran the show in Washington," Wayne Berzon of Northbrook, Ill., on the Obama doodle he bought on eBay. He paid $2,075.

"In 10 years, we will have a real people's president: President Lindsay Lohan," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., showing some pop-culture street cred.