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An undeclared Thompson raises $3.4 million

August 01, 2007|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

Edging closer to entering the presidential race, Republican Fred Thompson announced Tuesday that he had raised $3.4 million while he "tested the waters" in June.

Although the amount prompted him to crow about his support, skeptics said it fell short of expectations.

Thompson, who served eight years in the U.S. Senate from Tennessee, drew on his roots by raising more than 70% of his first month's haul from Southern states, a campaign finance report filed Tuesday showed.

The percentage of Thompson's money that came from the South, a bastion of GOP support, exceeded that of any other major candidate of either of the two major parties.

He raised $166,000 in California in June, but was prospecting for more money in Newport Beach on Tuesday and in Westwood today.

"The level of support and enthusiasm from people across this country is inspiring," Thompson said in a statement. "People are ready for a leader who will change the national attitude from political bickering to a shared vision for our future."

Thompson's $3.4 million is a fraction of the tens of millions raised by his main rivals, and a tiny portion of what he would need to mount a serious bid for the nomination. Experts have said candidates would need $100 million this year to compete in the 2008 primaries.

"I question whether he has the commitment to follow it through," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said recently. Hatch is backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Some pundits speculated Thompson would raise $5 million in his initial drive.

"He has never been a particularly strong fundraiser, and he demonstrated that by only raising $3 million," said Michael Schroeder, former California Republican Party chairman and another Romney backer.

However, Orange County lawyer Ken Khachigian, a senior advisor to Thompson, called the $5-million goal "urban legend," adding: "I don't think there is any question" that he will have money to compete.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who has toyed with entering the race, appeared on this week's "Fox News Sunday" and said Thompson would be "a very formidable candidate."

Thompson won't be required to make a full disclosure of his third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission until October, assuming he enters the race.

Thompson had planned to announce his candidacy in mid-July, but delayed it until this month. Meanwhile, he has retooled his campaign team, installing former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham as manager.

Thompson would join a field that includes Romney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Each has raised far more than Thompson, though Thompson is faring well in national opinion polls.

Unlike Romney, who is a multihundred millionaire, Thompson does not have the personal wealth to fund his campaign. Unlike Giuliani, who is relying on Wall Street for money, Thompson does not have a major base from which to raise funds.

During his eight years in the Senate, Thompson raised $10.5 million, less than it might cost to wage a primary campaign in California or New York.

Thompson could leverage his donations by using federal matching funds. So far, only McCain among the major candidates has indicated he would seek federal funds, after faltering in the money primary, raising $25 million in the first half of 2007.

"Decisions on whether or not to take matching funds would be made after a decision to become a candidate," Thompson communications director Linda Rozett said Tuesday.

Since he left office in January 2003, he has worked as an actor and an attorney. In the report filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Thompson disclosed that his contributors included Dick Wolf, creator and executive producer of "Law & Order," the television series in which Thompson appeared as the Manhattan district attorney. Wolf and his wife, Noelle, each donated $2,300.

Former California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb, a Nashville record producer, gave him $2,300, as did Curb's wife, Linda. Other Curb Records employees donated $8,200. Other $2,300 donors were former Sens. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee and Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, and country singer Trace Adkins.

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