Can Thompson Steal Rudy’s Thunder

Kathryn Jean Lopez notes that a USA Today poll shows Fred Thompson stealing some thunder from Rudy Giuliani.

That doesn’t particularly surprise me, since both Giuliani and Thompson are attracting the “leadership vote” — voters who are looking for a President who exudes the kind of personal leadership that the current Administration seems to lack these days. Giuliani’s inspirational performance during the aftermath of September 11 gives him that cachet. Likewise, Fred Thompson not only plays a natural leader on TV, but he was the real thing long before he got started in acting.

Thompson has a lot less baggage than does Giuliani, which is why he’s probably the biggest threat to the Rudy candidacy right now. Conservatives who are hungry for a determined leader in the Oval Office but are turned off by Giuliani’s social liberalism and personal history have a natural alternative with Thompson. The question is whether Thompson really wants to run (which would probably entail a salary cut as well the usual public proctal examination), and whether if he does he could raise enough funds to truly be competitive. The window for him to do so isn’t closed, but he’s going to have to decide fairly soon or bank on the collapse of one of the other major campaigns for him to have a realistic shot at building enough momentum to make it into the primary season.

Still, Rudy’s got a real challenger in Thompson, who’s already in the double digits despite not being officially in the running. While Rudy still has a commanding lead, this is a very period in which anything can (and probably will) happen. It’s a rare thing in an open race for the front-runner to stay that way for long, and all it takes is one major gaffe on the part of a candidate to take a soaring campaign and crash it back down to Earth.