Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fred Thompson and the Leno Factor

The long-awaited announcement from Fred Thompson is almost here.

In a couple of days, he'll officially join the Republican field of candidates for the presidency.

Some think he waited too long. Others think he should wait a bit longer, to avoid appearing that he's trying to get out of participating in the New Hampshire debate. Still others think Thompson's timing is just right.

That sort of analysis is for the pundits and insiders. It's irrelevant. What matters is how Thompson relates to Americans and how receptive they are to his vision for the country. What counts is votes.

I don't think the majority of voters care about campaign strategy. If they like what Thompson has to offer, they'll support him. They aren't thinking about the timing of his announcement.

Anyway, it can hardly be seen as being too late when the bulk of American voters aren't engaged in Election 2008 politics at all yet.

I know the primaries are a different ball game than the general election, but it's not as if primary voters constitute an exclusive club of party activists. Any and all voters are eligible to participate.

A candidate's challenge is to reach beyond the traditional targets of primary territory and spark the interest of the larger population, building support and raising funds.

Too late, too early, or just right aren't the only things with which Thompson's critics are finding fault.

There's the matter of Thompson choosing to appear on the Tonight Show rather than join the other Republican candidates at the debate in New Hampshire. For some reason, that's supposed to be dirty politics or viewed as cowardly.

Tim Russert brought up the Leno factor on Sunday's Meet the Press.

MR. RUSSERT: Mary Matalin, on Wednesday night, all the other Republicans will be on a stage debating in New Hampshire. Fred Thompson will be on Jay Leno. Is that appropriate?

MS. MATALIN: And guess what? Who do you think has the largest audience at that time? Jay Leno has 31 percent of the audience at the time immediately preceding the video. This is a message-driven campaign, and we want to drive people, and the biggest place to do that was Jay Leno. We want to drive him right at 12:01 to hear Fred Thompson’s principles, which is the definition of performance. I don’t know what they mean by performance. I know what he means by performance. It is getting your principles out there, and we want to drive him right to the video so they don’t have to go through the prism of us. You can read it, and you can see it, and you can hear it and deliver his principles. Thank you, Jay Leno.

MR. SHRUM: Performance, Mary, means, can he answer basic questions, I think, about, that people now have about Republicans. For example, should you vote Republican for—to end the war in Iraq? Should you vote Republican for a better health care plan? Should you vote Republican for a better economy.

MR. MURPHY: No, Bob, you’re...


MR. MURPHY: You’re going into the general election wedge issues. Nice try, but this is the primary we’re talking about.

MS. MATALIN: I hope Hillary hires you. That’s great, frame it up there quick.

MR. SHRUM: I’m not for anybody.

MR. MURPHY: The question, can he...

MS. MATALIN: There’s not a question he cannot answer.

MR. MURPHY: Can he up his message game, and can he working a media environment more hostile than Fox? Those are the two questions I think he’s set up to answer, but he’s got to go do it.

MR. CARVILLE: Yeah, he does.

Russert's question about the appropriateness of Thompson's appearance on Leno is just goofy.

Soliciting sex in a public restroom is inappropriate. Paying Leno a visit is not. Furthermore, no candidate is bound to participate in debates. They do so by choice.

I'm so glad that all this yapping about Thompson's campaign strategy will soon be over.

The focus will be off Thompson's "when" and turn to his "what."

Can Thompson work in a media environment more hostile than FOX?

What a stupid question!

He already has.

These pundits are wasting their breath.

I really look forward to later this week, when Thompson finally gets off the sidelines and takes his place on the field.

I think in terms of exposure, it's a smart move for Thompson to use Leno's large audience and September 5 program as a launch for his candidacy launch on September 6.

It'll be much more effective than showing up at a debate with just a fraction of the viewers that Leno draws.

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