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.

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