Fred Thompson's Progress

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jul 21, 2007 12:01 AM
Fred Thompson's Progress

WASHINGTON -- In advance of a formal solicitation for funds or an announcement of his candidacy, Fred Thompson's presidential campaign is quietly organizing its first Washington fund-raiser at the downtown J.W. Marriott hotel the last week in July.

This event will give the clearest signal so far of how successful the actor-politician will be in his late-starting drive to finance his run for president. It will be watched carefully to see whether Thompson picks up important lobbyists and other Washingtonians who earlier had lined up for Sen. John McCain's fading campaign for the presidential nomination.

A footnote: Thompson may not announce officially as a candidate until September, although an "exploratory" committee may soon be unveiled.

MCCAIN'S LAST GASP

Sen. John McCain's virtually bankrupt presidential campaign has made a desperate fund-raising bid for small contributions, on grounds that "the liberal Hollywood elites would love to see Sens. [Barack] Obama, [Hillary] Clinton or [John] Edwards face off against any Republican other than John McCain."

A July 11 fund-raising letter was intended to reassure contributors that, contrary to speculation, McCain has no intention of dropping out of the contest. The senator signed the appeal that promised: "With so much on the line . . . , we cannot afford to give up -- or even back down one inch. My friend, I promise you, I never will."

However, McCain's letter seeking $400 contributions went to some supporters who already had sent his campaign the maximum $2,300 contribution for the primary elections.

THE SPEAKER LEAVES?

Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has indicated to a close former aide that it is likely he will not run for a 12th term from his northern Illinois district and may even resign from Congress before his present term concludes.

That runs counter to widespread speculation on Capitol Hill that Hastert will continue in the House for another two years as a private member with no leadership responsibilities. Since last year's Democratic takeover of Congress moved him out of the speaker's office, he has enjoyed returning to his former specialty of energy issues as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

A footnote: If Hastert does not run, a leading candidate will be his chief of staff, Mike Stokke. Before going on Hastert's staff, Stokke was an aide for both the Illinois state legislature and the governor's office in Springfield.

HAGEL'S WAR CHEST

The latest report to the Federal Election Commission shows maverick Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska raising only $387,215 in the last quarter with but $483,000 cash on hand. His opponent for the Republican nomination, State Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning, raised $723,688 in that period.

Hagel's lack of fund-raising reflects that he has yet to select from four options: run for a third term in the Senate, run for president as a Republican or an independent, or get out of elective politics.

A footnote: The biggest senatorial fund-raiser for the last quarter was Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts with $6 million. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky led Republicans with $4.4 million.

GOP DISCONTENT

The biggest political upset so far of this election cycle reflected rank-and-file Republican disgust with the party establishment when former State Sen. Jim Whitehead was defeated Tuesday as the anointed successor to the late Rep. Charles Norwood in a heavily Republican northeastern Georgia district that includes Athens and suburban Augusta.

Dr. Paul Broun, a little-known physician, outworked a complacent Whitehead to win the battle between two conservative Republicans. Broun's aggressive mail and telephone campaign attacked an overconfident Whitehead, who did not even respond. Whitehead had led Broun, 44 percent to 21 percent, in the first round of balloting.

Although the seat will remain in Republican hands, Whitehead's unexpected loss terrified those incumbent Republican House members who had thought themselves safe for re-election in 2008.