Fred Thompson

With a campaign built on new technology and a flair for the dramatic, former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson appears ready to stir up the race for the Republican presidential nomination, generating 500 responses from potential contributors and volunteers immediately after news leaked of his determination to run.

“Can’t keep up with the incoming. … Drinking from the fire hose,” said Thompson’s inundated potential campaign manager, Mark Corallo, in an e-mail to The Politico.

Along with the leaked news, Thompson’s announcement last week of his resignation from the television drama “Law & Order” were just the latest in a series of moves indicating he is serious about vying for the White House.

So far, no one has emerged as a runaway favorite among the current Republican frontrunners, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. With his focus on tighter borders, lower taxes and smaller government, Thompson may be in a position to distinguish himself from the field.

Thompson, 64, who has been diagnosed with treatable lymphoma, told USA Today he plans to use the people’s press, the Internet, as a significant means of garnering support.

A search on the popular college-oriented social networking site Facebook turns up 85 groups in support of Thompson and just three against him, sporting names such as “Draft Fred Thompson 2008” and “Run, Fred, Run!”

Thompson’s focus on the Internet as a campaign tool is mirrored by the top Democratic contenders, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who already have mined the Web’s ability to collect demographic and voting information. College-aged Americans are plugging in to the race through the Internet, and Thompson is the first Republican to have “one of the most profound personality cults we’ve seen in politics for a long time,” according to National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg.

Fred Thompson jokes are even circulating online, presenting wild claims that “every night before he goes to sleep, Osama bin Laden checks under his bed for Fred Thompson,” and “Superman is only vulnerable to two things: Kryptonite and Fred Thompson.” Others say “Fred Thompson glared at the Mexican border and stopped illegal immigration for a month.”

Recently, Rasmussen polls indicated Thompson, still not yet officially a candidate, has pushed ahead of Romney to take second place, while frontrunner Giuliani dropped two points, for his lowest ratings yet. Thompson is ahead of Romney by two points, and McCain is only one point behind Romney, according to Rasmussen.

Some bloggers say it’s difficult not to think of Ronald Reagan when describing Thompson, as both are former actors, well-spoken, well-liked and on the older side.

Critics on the Web, nevertheless, point to Thompson’s 18 years as a high-powered D.C. lobbyist, including pushing for the passage of deregulatory legislation that allegedly led to the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s. His detractors say those years invalidate his Southern down-home appeal.

Pensito Review Online mocked his “Law & Order” role: “Dead Fred isn’t an honest public figure, but he plays one on T.V.”

While bloggers and Facebookers debate the merits of a man with a fairly brief record of public service, pundits say his use of Internet media shows a sense of undeniably 21st-century street smarts that could catapult him to the White House.

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Naomi Laine is a WND editorial assistant

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