Fred Thompson makes his debut in the presidential debates this afternoon. The debate will be held in Dearborn, Michigan and will focus on economic issues. CNBC will broadcast the debate beginning at 4:00 p.m. and MSNBC will show it at 9:00 p.m. You can also follow the debate at CNBC’s website. And Jon Henke will be live-blogging it from the perspective of the Thompson campaign at Fred File.
This morning, Bill Lacy, Thompson’s campaign manager, spoke by telephone to a group of bloggers about the debate and the campaign generally. Lacy didn’t try to lower expectations for Thompson as much as I thought he might. He said, reasonably enough, that Thompson doesn’t need to knock it out of the park, but does need “a good solid performance.” Lacy reported that Thompson is well prepared and that his experience as a trial lawyer should stand him in good stead.
Thompson’s goal will be to define himself for voters. Above all, this means appearing presidential and demonstrating “his preparation and substance.” While acknowledging that every debate develops a dynamic of its own, Lacy does not expect Thomspon to go after his rivals. There will time enough to “throw darts” later on in the campaign, he added.
Lacy provided what I thought was a fair assessment of where the Thompson campaign stands overall. He sees Thompson running second right now with a “slight uptick” since he officially entered the race. Lacy admits that lots of work needs to be done, especially in the early states. However, he is encouraged by the fact that Thompson’s numbers have improved in Iowa since he started appearing there. Lacy also noted that Thompson should have an edge when it comes to the 300 plus “bonus delegates” awarded to states where President Bush did well in 2004. These are mostly states where Thompson is strong. Lacy also noted, as I have, the apparent gap in perceptions of Thompson between the media and beltway insiders on the one hand and Republican voters on the other. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming debates affect the gap.
Lacy said he was satisfied with the money the campaign raised last quarter. He added, though, that Thomspon is running a “financially disciplined” campiagn, and intends to husband his resources until the time when voters really start to focus on the race.
UPDATE: I had to leave during the question and answer period. Erick Erickson at Red State has an account of this portion of the call. Apparently, former Senator D’Amato has been impersonating Rudy Giuliani during Thompson’s practice debates. That I’d like to see.
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