WASHINGTON – Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson, whose candidacy fizzled after a summer of expectations, pulled out of the Republican presidential race Tuesday after disappointing finishes in all of the primary contests.
In a terse, three-sentence statement, the former actor abandoned a candidacy that once seemed like it had everything a Republican could want: solid conservative credentials, Washington experience, Hollywood panache, southern charm and a commanding personality.
“Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for president of the United States,” he said. “I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people.”
The statement was a diminutive end to a campaign that was born of hype. It was the image of Thompson as commander in chief – a part he played in a movie once – that seemed to hold such promise when the real-life former senator contemplated running for the White House last spring and summer.
Instead, the campaign became roiled in staff disputes and was dogged by allegations that Thompson did not have the desire or energy to mount an aggressive presidential campaign.
That narrative was offered as soon as Thompson entered the race just after Labor Day. And as the campaign progressed, Thompson’s actions affirmed it.
In October, he took the stage at Florida’s state GOP convention after his three main rivals gave energetic stemwinders before a throng of 4,000 conservative activists.
But when his turn came, Thompson mumbled for about five minutes and departed abruptly, leaving a stunned crowd to wonder whether he was even interested in running for president. The Miami Herald wrote the next day that “dozens of people asked: ‘Is that it?’ “
As the men competing for the GOP nomination head back to Florida before the state’s primary on Jan. 29, Thompson will not go with them.
Thompson had said repeatedly that he needed a strong finish in South Carolina to stay in the race. He failed, ending up with 16 percent of the vote, behind Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and just a point ahead of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Thompson was unable to unite the party’s right wing around his candidacy.
His refusal to support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and questions about his lobbying for an abortion rights group raised questions for social conservatives. And his laid-back style and several early flubs on the campaign trail made others question his chances against an energized Democrat.