Thompson's to-do list looms

In coming weeks, advisers say Thompson will unveil "bold policies" that will "set the table" for the candidates' forums that follow. His first campaign ad airs on Fox News Channel today.

"You have the platform, you're new and fresh, and you've got big ideas," says Ken Khachigian, a California Republican strategist and former Reagan aide who is advising Thompson. "That gives you a chance to shape the debate, which could be important going into the next debate that'll be his debut, so to speak."

Capitalize on Republicans' dissatisfaction with the rest of the field. The opening for Thompson's late-starting campaign is the failure of the current candidates to capture the support of the Republican base. In the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll last month, he trailed only Giuliani in support nationwide, suggesting Thompson's well on his way.

"The fact that a pro-choice, pro-gay rights ex-mayor of New York is leading shows the base has not begun to solidify behind a candidate," Wilson says.

Reed sees a "void" in the GOP field for "a true-blue conservative" that Thompson might be able to fill. "Labor Day is the starting gun for this race," he says. "He hasn't waited too long as long as he's prepared to sprint."

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