Fred Thompson Knows Timing Is Everything

Will Thompson follow Schwarzenegger's lead?

ByTahman Bradley

May 22, 2007 — -- For weeks, former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., has been positioning himself for a 2008 White House run and all signs seem to be pointing to an announcement coming sometime before the end of the summer.

But as any good actor knows, timing is everything.

To put it mildly, team Thompson must weigh conflicts that few others even remotely consider when contemplating a run for the nation's highest office.

For instance, before Thompson wants to be president, he'll play one on TV. Later this month, the former senator appears in the HBO produced film "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" playing -- wait for it -- the role of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Then, of course, there's his recurring role as Manhattan District Attorney Arthur Branch on the popular NBC series "Law & Order." Thankfully, that one's in reruns for the summer.

So when does the senator plan -- if ever -- to ditch the glowing lights of Hollywood for the blaze of the campaign trail?

Perhaps Thompson will follow the lead of another successful actor-turned politician (although, technically, Fred Dalton Thompson is a lobbyist-turned-actor-turned-politician-turned actor) in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

ABC News has confirmed that Thompson will strut his 6-foot-plus frame onto the set of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" for a June 12 appearance.

Although Thompson spokesman Mark Corrallo insists that when and if the senator announces it would be from Tennessee and not on Leno, the scene might prove to be too good to resist.

Thompson wouldn't be the first politician to announce his candidacy on a late-night comedy show.

The movie action hero Schwarzenegger had been posturing about a possible run for governor in the 2003 California recall election when he launched his campaign on Leno's couch. Schwarzenegger's entrance into the race was orchestrated to perfection coming during the summer "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" was tearing up the box office, and at the height of Californians anger toward Democratic Gov. Gray Davis over an energy and budget crisis.

Sen John McCain R-Ariz., surprised host David Letterman and perhaps several members of his staff when he announced his 2008 candidacy on CBS's "Late Show." In 2004, then-Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., made good on a promise to Jon Stewart, announcing his first of two bids for the White House on "The Daily Show."

And even if they don't go for the full monty announcement, Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls have been fighting to gain the attention of a public that still has not gotten fully engaged through the late-night television circuit.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts has also been on Leno since he got in the race. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois have also matched wits with Letterman recently. And a slew of '08rs have dropped by to see Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Thompson, a social conservative opposed to abortion, gay marriage and gun control, may try to play the role of the Republican hero who was forced into the race to fill a void left by a Republican presidential field more moderate on social issues than the party's base.

The story seems to be selling. Even though he's been absent from the first two GOP presidential debates and does not have a campaign apparatus up and running, Thompson shows strength when matched against potential Republican rivals in national polls. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last month, Thompson was ahead of seven active candidates, trailing only Giuliani, McCain and Romney without lifting a finger.

The former senator has since moved in earnest to keep his momentum going. He was the keynote speaker at the Lincoln Club of Orange County last month and will be on hand for Thursday night's Connecticut Republican Party's Prescott Bush dinner in Stamford.

Perhaps Thompson, 54, will find no way out of the pressure cooker that seems to be driving him toward a run. But he wasn't born yesterday; as soon as he officially enters the race, he's officially due the necessary roughness that comes with being in the line of fire. His last best chance may be to keep off his racing stripes for now, staying in the limelight and waiting for the perfect day to get in the hunt for what he hopes will be a red November 2008.

ABC News' Teddy Davis contributed to this report.

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