Thompson (Finally) Makes It Official

Fred Thompson's decision to skip Wednesday's New Hampshire debate invited ridicule from the Republican '08ers who view him as a lightweight.

But his thin public record is cold comfort to one Democratic powerbroker.

In fact, it has former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe downright nervous.

"There's not much there. That's what makes me nervous," said McAuliffe who remembers toiling for Jimmy Carter when he was trounced by Ronald Reagan.

"I'm never underestimating another B-Movie actor."

McAuliffe offered his assessment to ABC News just moments after Thompson entered the fray.

"I am certainly not disrespecting them," Thompson said of his '08 rivals while appearing on Jay Leno's show, "but it's a lot more difficult to get on the 'Tonight Show' than it is to get into a presidential debate."

With his Hollywood entrance into the race behind him, Thompson heads to Iowa today where he delivers 3:20 pm ET remarks in Des Moines followed by a 7:00 pm ET stop in Council Bluffs. The former Law & Order star then heads to New Hampshire for two days of campaigning followed by a day of stumping in South Carolina.

As for the debate itself, Mitt Romney took some heat for his plan to wiretap mosques, the illegal Guatemalans who once tended his lawn, and whether his commitment to Iraq is more durable than that of Hillary Clinton.

Romney was also questioned by a military dad for seeming to compare his son's work on the campaign to his own son's service.

"Romney not only failed to offer his apology but seemed indifferent to the questioner," writes Jennifer Rubin at Human Events. "We like smart presidents but we also like empathetic ones who relate to people as people and Romney needs to show he has a heart and not just a brain."

Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee turned in solid debate performances. But the press handed the most effusive praise to John McCain, the 2000 New Hampshire winner who has struggled of late.

McCain "stole the night," wrote the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza.

Fox News saw "new life" injected into the Arizona senator's "suffering" campaign.

"Left for dead a month ago," McCain "roared back with a strong debate performance," wrote Dave Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

While Romney got a chance during the debate to explain his support for a two-step process on abortion (first, overturn Roe v. Wade so abortion decisions can go back to the states; then, work for a nationwide ban), his words still left the Wall Street Journal thinking that he opposes a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

"Mr. Romney was asked about his views on abortion, which have shifted over time against abortion rights. He gave a nuanced view, saying he was personally opposed to abortion but wouldn't seek to pass a constitutional amendment banning it."

Back in August, Romney endorsed a Human Life Amendment while appearing on ABC News' "Good Morning America."

More on the debate from ABC News' Karen Travers.

Thompson assessments:

In the view of the Wall Street Journal's ed board, Thompson's entry "probably steals more of Mr. Romney's thunder initially" since Romney -- unlike Giuliani -- is still introducing himself to a nationwide audience.

Despite being tarred in 1994 as a "Gucci-wearing, Lincoln-driving, Perrier-drinking, Grey Poupon-spreading millionaire," Thompson was able to sell himself as a country boy that year, writes the Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr. in a story which suggests that the former senator might be able to recast himself again.

Rich Bond, a former RNC chairman who is formally backing McCain's presidential bid, tells the Wall Street Journal's Amy Schatz that Thompson has the potential to be "the real deal."

Thompson has some repair work to do with the chairman of the New Hampshire GOP.

"'There is a genuine interest in Senator Thompson here, a real curiosity about him,' said Fergus Cullen, the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. 'But that curiosity is giving way to skepticism, and maybe even cynicism about him in part because of how he's handling his grand entrance. For him to then go on Jay Leno the same night and be trading jokes while other candidates are having a substantive discussion on issues is not going to be missed by New Hampshire voters.'"

Also today:

The New York City-based Transport Workers Union of America endorsed John Edwards this morning, calling the former North Carolina senator the most electable of the Democrats.

This is the union whose subway strike was ruled illegal by a judge in 2005.

At his Wednesday book party, Clinton strategist Mark Penn offered the very un-Edwards view that "many of the old divisions of class and race are breaking down."

Penn argues in "Microtrends," his new book about the "small forces behind tomorrow's big changes," that America is moving away from a melting pot and moving towards a niche society and Starbucks world governed by individualistic choices and personal preferences.

Joe Biden is in Iraq today on his eighth visit to the country since 2002.

Biden hopes to determine on his trip whether there is any prospect for political reconciliation in Iraq. (Something tells us that he will come away thinking that Iraq's warring parties -- the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds -- need more breathing room).

Looking ahead:

For all those who have been looking forward to the rollout of Hillary Clinton's plan for universal health coverage, a source close to the New York senator says it is likely to come next week.

In other news:

"With a mixed picture emerging about progress in Iraq, Senate Democratic leaders are showing a new openness to compromise as they try to attract Republican support for forcing at least modest troop withdrawals in the coming months," writes the New York Times' Carl Hulse.

Providing yet more fodder for the RNC, a new warrant has been issued for the arrest of Democratic donor Norman Hsu who failed to appear Wednesday for a bail hearing.

"Hil Money Man Takes A Powder," blares the New York Daily News.

Hsu is also identified as a "Clinton donor" in an above-the-fold front page story in the New York Times.

Bob Novak concurs with Democratic strategist Bob Shrum that Clinton stands to gain in a "perverse way" from the '08er pledge not to campaign in the "outlaw" nominating contests being planned in Florida and Michigan.

"Being forced to stay out of Florida and Michigan leverages Clinton's vastly superior name recognition in the two high-population states and could counterbalance potential defeats in less-populated Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina."

Chris Dodd's "ambitious" proposal for reconfiguring the mortgage market got some ink in today's Wall Street Journal.

Key elements of his plan include: (1) a ban on certain payments that can encourage mortgage brokers to push higher-cost loans, (2) a ban on prepayment penalties on subprime loans, and (3) a ban on borrowers who qualify for prime loans getting subprime ones.

William Gardner, the defender of New Hampshire's "primary status," gets the Adam Nagourney treatment in today's New York Times.

J.D.'s are back in (presidential) fashion.

With the top three candidates on both sides holding law degrees, USA Today's Jill Lawrence writes in the nation's newspaper that a lawyer might soon be back in the Oval Office.

On the Larry Craig front, the New York Times' Adam Liptak reports that while it "will not be easy" for the Idaho Republican to back out of his deal with prosecutors, "it may not be impossible" and Craig may have more options under Minnesota law than he would elsewhere.

But even if he is vindicated, several of Craig's GOP colleagues indicated that they would not welcome his return, per the New York Times' Herszenhorn and Wilson.

Mayor Bloomberg is a fashion plate -- so says Us Weekly.

"Mayor Bloomberg's affinity for white ankle socks, shorts and polo shorts has attracted the attention of fashion critics," writes Ben Widdicombe of the New York Daily News.

Arnold's brother-in-law -- Bobby Shriver -- is ready to run for governor of California, according to Liz Smith of the New York Post.

The kicker:

"Maybe we're up past his bedtime." --John McCain on Fred Thompson skipping Wednesday's Fox News debate