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Thompson's Backers Unhappy With Fundraising

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the Republican presidential field yesterday was jolted by the fine print about Fred Thompson's finances. Thompson, who you might think is running but who hasn't formally entered the race for the White House, reported raising just three and half million dollars so far. That fell well short of the five million or more Thompson's camp had been predicting.

NPR political analyst Juan Williams joins us now to consider what this may mean for the former senator from Tennessee. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, you know, we've been hearing for months now that some big Republican donors were sitting on their wallets, if you will, in this campaign, waiting for someone to get in there that they could support. So they were supposed to be excited about Fred Thompson. What happened?

WILLIAMS: Well, good question, Renee. It's the same question that his campaign aides have been asking. Part of the answer circulating in Republican circles is that the Thompson campaign has not reached out with an effective message to the big donors. He needs money in the bank to keep his campaign going, especially in the early northern primary states where he hopes to do just well enough before heading south.

In national polls he is running second, far behind former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Thompson's strength is in the South among white male conservatives, so he needs enough cash to get to South Carolina and Florida, the first southern states that will be holding primaries, and do very well in those states.

At the moment, that kind of planning, coupled with the expectations that he was going to get a rousing reception, they become a weight around his neck as his opponents point to the lackluster fundraising as proof that there's no great store of hidden support for Thompson waiting to burst out.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, as a comparison, what about the other Republican candidates? How much have, say, the top three raised so far?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's fascinating because, you know, the leading fundraiser among Republicans is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, with more than 44 million, but much of that has come out of his own pocket, and Romney continues to trail badly in national polls with about eight percent support.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads in the polls, and one recent Washington Post poll had him as high as 37 percent. But in the last official report the mayor was second in fundraising, with about $36 million.

Senator McCain is in a virtual tie with Thompson in the polls, down around 16 percent. And Senator McCain's raised around $25 million.

MONTAGNE: So Fred Thompson's ability to raise money, at least so far, doesn't look too great. But how much is this a case of expectation set and - by the media or by his campaign?

WILLIAMS: Well, look, Renee, Thompson, you know, he scored very well in the polls for a man who has yet to formally launch his candidacy. He had planned to get into the race July 4th. Now it's looking like he's headed towards a September announcement. Fred-Heads, as his supporters call themselves, like to compare Thompson to another actor-politician, conservative icon Ronald Reagan. But right now, with these stumbles, you know, it's a matter of him not living up to his own expectations, and the stumbles have been caused by problems with his apparent lobbying for a pro-choice group and some stumbling also over tax policy.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR political analyst Juan Williams. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
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