Fred's Second Debate ... Tonight

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Oct 21, 2007 6:07 PM
Let's see, between game 7 of the ALCS -- and Sunday Night Football -- I figure like 3 or 4 people in America might watch tonight's debate ...

My assumption is it will just be me -- and I'll be flipping back and forth ...

Still, this is Fred Thompson's second debate, and I guess that's the story.  During Friday's conference call with bloggers, Thompson's campaign manager Bill Lacy discussed their expectations for the debate:

"Our expectations are that Fred will begin Sunday night where he ended in Michigan," Lacy told me.  He also mentioned something about Fred, "getting his sea legs" in the last debate.

Maybe Fred will rock, but I'm skeptical ...

... Here's how he performed in Florida on Saturday night:

When it came time for Fred D. Thompson, the crowd was primed, having listened to his rivals deliver speeches, lasting about 20 minutes each, that the candidates each obviously thought played to their strengths.

Mr. Thompson walked slowly onto the stage, kissed his wife, Jerri, on the cheek, made a joke or two, claimed to be a “consistent conservative” — and said good night. He spoke for four minutes.

“I was really kind of shocked,” said Linda Hoffman, 47, who wore stickers for all the candidates on her blazer, reflecting her indecision. “We were all hoping he would say something we could get behind, but there was nothing.”

That should be a devastating quote, but the truth is it is entirely consistent with almost everything Fred has done since entering the race.

(Did I mention he paid $100,000 for those 4 minutes?)

For Fred's sake, he better open and close tonight the way he finished in Michigan.  

That is, if anybody's watching, anyway ...

As for the rest of the candidates, I am struck by how quickly they are running out of time.  It's almost like an NFL game where one second you have things under control, and then the next second there is like 1:10 left on the clock.  Time is slipping away for the non-frontrunners.  My belief is that it is now time to start pulling out all the stops.

For example, one operative was emailing me today about a recent story in which Mitt Romney actually had the audacity to refer to himself as the "consistent conservative."  (Romney may be a true convert and a great guy, but consistent???)

This operative was offended that I didn't think Romney's audacious claim was particularly newsworthy, since Romney's flip-floppery has been widely covered, already.  He was incredulous that we would allow Romney to get away with this. 

My response to him was that his candidate could make this a story by actually calling Romney a "phony" -- as opposed to merely implying it all the time.  While that would make it newsworthy, my guess is the candidates are afraid to "go negative."

So far, candidates on both sides of the aisle have avoided direct attacks, preferring instead to have surrogates or leaks do the attacking (they've also probably been hoping one of the other candidates would do their dirty work for them).  But it hasn't worked.  The frontrunners have profited from this strategy.  At this point, it seems to me that whether you want to take down Hillary Clinton -- or Mitt Romney -- or Rudy Giuliani -- the other candidates are running out of time. 

Of course, "going negative" could create a backlash (this happened to Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean in Iowa last time).  But sometimes you've got to throw the Hail Mary when nothing else is working and time is dwindling ... 

Whether or not it happens tonight, time is running out.  In the immortal words of the Doors, "The time to hesitate is through."