The Note: Testing Fred Thompson

Now that the suspense is (almost) over, so, too, is the fun part for Fred Thompson. Will the former senator, R-Tenn., ever look as good as he does right now? Not likely.

It's not just that Thompson can't be the answer to all the hopes and dreams of a troubled Republican Party -- no one can. And it's not just that his political record (or lack thereof) will draw newly intense scrutiny. (Though if the rest of the GOP field is looking for good news today, there you have it.)

Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., told an interviewer yesterday that Thompson will make the race "more interesting," and that's an understatement. But high expectations set a high bar, and now that he's in the race (just about), the storyline is already becoming set: Thanks for coming, Fred, but who exactly are you, and what makes you think you should be president? And what do you mean you want to be home by 5 o'clock?

Even the way he is rolling out his candidacy is drawing criticism. Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio pronounced himself "surprised and a little sad," telling The New York Times' Carl Hulse and Patrick Healy that Thompson needed a grand entrance instead of putting off a formal announcement for a month or more. "You need to send signals that say, 'I'm here and I'm going to win,' " he said.

And while delaying a formal announcement will mean he can avoid (temporarily) reporting second-quarter fund-raising figures, Thompson will be judged early and often. "Questions about his viability would arise if there should be anything less than strong performances in his first debates, in his ability to raise funds quickly, or in rapidly assembling organizations in states with early contests next year," write Michael Shear and Dan Balz of The Washington Post.

Thompson himself tells USA Today's Susan Page that his late start brings with it "certain advantages." "Nobody has maxed out to me" in contributions, he said, and using the Internet already "has allowed me to be in the hunt, so to speak, without spending a dime." (For the record, he leaves little room in the interview for the possibility that he won't actually run, and says he knows that running for president means "working your fanny off.")

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who panned Thompson's California coming-out speech, sees Thompson getting appropriately fired up for the race, and adds a line that warms many Nashville hearts this morning: "In his Senate voting record and his public utterances, Thompson is more conservative than Giuliani, McCain or Romney."

For a sign that there's room for Thompson, look no further than Florida, where "an overwhelming majority of President Bush's top political fundraisers . . . are sitting on the sidelines so far in the 2008 presidential race. Of the 54 Floridians who raised at least $100,000 for Bush-Cheney in 2004, only 10 have given to any Republican contender to succeed Bush," reports Adams Smith of the St. Petersburg Times. Yes, ANY.

Also in the news today:

Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., is set to pick up the endorsement of former Clinton administration FBI director Louis Freeh today in New York, the Daily News' David Saltonstall reports. Time to dust off those not-so-nice things Freeh had to say about the Clintons in his book. Here's one: "Whatever moral compass the president was consulting was leading him in the wrong direction."

With Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., nabbing the endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Clinton for the first time yesterday addressed reports that she accepted private-jet flights from the owner of infoUSA. "Those were the rules. You'll have to ask somebody else whether that's good policy," she told the Associated Press. Who would expect a presidential candidate to have an opinion on such a matter?

Conservative opponents of the immigration bill really didn't like being criticized by President Bush on Tuesday, if talk radio is any indication. ABC News reports that Rush Limbaugh said yesterday he'd understand if conservatives "flew the coop" on Bush over immigration. Mark Levin was even sharper: "You treat us like we're Klansmen. To be frank, it's pretty disgusting. . . . We are studying the bill, we are breaking it down. Are you? And you really think by smearing us, you'll win the day?"

Anyone else notice that House foes are now calling the immigration measure the "Kennedy-Bush" bill? (Last year, when conservatives wanted to kill it, it was "Kennedy-Reid.")

The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan and James Pindell report on the enthusiasm gap in New Hampshire: "Democratic presidential candidates are drawing bigger crowds, more donors, and more energy from the New Hampshire electorate than Republican hopefuls are, a sign to officials in both parties of a lack of enthusiasm for the current GOP field and a tired state Republican Party still reeling from a historic defeat in November." That doesn't bode well for any Republican who is counting on a boost from independents.

Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is calling on the Justice Department to investigate soaring gas prices. He travels to Silicon Valley today to "berate the oil industry for 'anticompetitive actions' and outline an energy plan he says would reduce oil imports," the AP's Rachel Konrad reports.

Edwards also raised some eyebrows in California yesterday by supporting Google's right to do business with China, despite the country's record of human-rights violations, the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein reports.

Elizabeth Edwards is the subject of a People magazine profile (and photo spread), where she talks about her fear that her cancer treatment isn't working, ABC's David Muir reports. In one maudlin note, she talks about her efforts to organize her children's toys: "I don't know how long I have, and I don't want to leave all these things a mess."

Tom Edsall debuts at Huffington Post by compiling the "back-breaker" Bob Shrum-produced ads that Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., used in 1994 to defeat Mitt Romney. The ads had a series of blue-collar workers accusing Romney of "lining his pockets at their expense," Edsall writes.

More bad press for Romney in Time, where Joe Klein writes that he's disappointed by his candidacy: "Romney takes postures, not positions." "When Romney slowed down and focused on a single issue -- immigration -- at a press conference in Dover, N.H., the brazen cynicism of his candidacy became almost embarrassing," Klein writes. "There isn't the slightest hint of courage or conviction in his stump act."

Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post looks at the essays by Romney and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in the new Foreign Affairs, finding much different takes on global warming and the war in Iraq but a common thread that will no doubt return regularly over the next 18 months: "both candidates are at pains to move beyond Iraq toward an overarching vision that will convince an unsettled and war-focused public that this, too, shall pass."

The kicker:

"It's just you and your cousin fighting with you," John Ukec Lueth Ukec, the Sudan's ambassador to Washington, responding to the new sanctions announced by President Bush against his government. The Post's Dana Milbank dubs him "Khartoum Karl," a la "Baghdad Bob."