Fred Thompson, Frontrunner?

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The latest Rasmussen poll has Hollywood Fred in a first-place tie with Mr. 9/11 at 24 percent. That's pretty stunning — and Thompson deserves credit. His quietly confident above-the-fray campaign has left the actor as a clean receptacle for much of the strong-brewed, none-of-the-above sentiment that's fueling the GOP base right now.

But clearly the "Thompson epiphany" as some top conservatives are calling it, springs less of love for the Law & Order Republican, and more out of a sense of desperation among base voters who see the former Tennessee senator as the lesser of four evils. "We know that the Ronald Reagan white knight is not going to come flying down the street on his golden horse," Bill Donohue of the Catholic League told me recently. All Republicans are hoping for at this point, he says, is a "serious-minded person, who's pro life, not flip flopping, and shows presidential leadership skills. Thompson apparently fits the bill."

I fear, though, that Fred's numbers are softer than his Dixie Drawl. While Thompson may play a Reagan Republican on television, his real-life record is that of a lazy man's John McCain. Thompson co-chaired his friend's presidential campaign in 2000, and helped fine-tune McCain's conservative-detested campaign finance reform law. He's also has a well earned reputation for laziness. "I don't do frenetic," he said recently, predicting a low-key campaign.

"The challenge for Fred Thompson," conservative strategist Frank Luntz told me recently, "is whether he's passionate enough. Republicans are so afraid of losing the White House just like they lost the House and Senate that they will only vote for someone who they think desperately wants it."