Fred Thompson

After months of acting like a candidate, former Sen. Fred Thompson is telling supporters in a conference call today he will officially jump into the race next week.

The former Tennessee senator will announce his candidacy next Thursday and launch a tour of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, according to the Politico.

He will not appear at the Republican debate in New Hampshire on Wednesday.

In the latest weekly Rasmussen Reports 2008 Republican presidential primary poll, Thompson trailed frontrunner Rudy Giuliani by just one point, 24-23 percent.

Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, has been at either 24 or 25 percent for five of the past six weeks, according to Rasmussen’s surveys. Thompson rebounded slightly this week after polling strong in June and July. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was in third place with 13 percent, just ahead of Sen. John McCain at 12 percent. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee remained in fourth at 5 percent, ahead of Sen. Sam Brownback and Reps. Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter.

After signaling his interest in the nomination in March, Thompson aides initially said he would announce his candidacy around the Fourth of July. Later the date was moved to after Labor Day.

Some supporters have worried he has waited too long to take advantage of a wave of interest accompanying initial reports of his potential candidacy.

Evidence of campaign disorganization and staff turmoil have raised questions among Republican insiders about whether Thompson has sufficient discipline and zeal or the ability to craft a message that separates him from the field.

Thompson’s first manager, Tom Collamore, left in July with other staffers amid disagreement over how to organize the campaign. The new chief, Bill Lacy, dismissed communications director Linda Rozett Monday, explaining he wanted someone with more major campaign experience.

Rozett told NBC News she still supports Thompson and characterized her departure as “not a noteworthy event.”

“My hope is this will be seen for nothing more than Bill Lacy bringing his own team together,” she said. “And while it is not my desired outcome, it happens every day in Washington in politics and with high level communications people.”

At a recent gathering of local backers in Indianapolis, Thompson responded to skepticism about the lateness of his entry.

“Historically, people don’t get in this soon,” Thompson argued. “The question is about the fact that everybody else is out there and [they] have spent all this time and all this money – and I still clearly have a shot. That ought to answer that question in and of itself.”

The Alabama native was sent to the Senate after winning a 1994 special election in Tennessee to fill the unexpired term of Democrat Al Gore and was re-elected in 1996. He chose in 2002 not to seek re-election and has appeared in several Hollywood productions since.

He was one of the stars on the NBC television drama “Law and Order.” His movie appearances include “The Hunt for Red October” and “Barbarians at the Gate.”

Thompson served as an assistant U.S. attorney at the Justice Department from 1969 through 1972 and was the chief counsel to the Republican minority on the Senate Watergate Committee during its investigation prior to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

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