Posted: Dec. 12, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Fred Thompson's presidential campaign, which has a reputation for being lackadaisical, gave that image a mighty boost this week in Delaware.

It was heavy lifting by inertia. Just perfect.

Thompson, a Republican probably better known for his television and movie roles than his tenure as a Tennessee senator, was trying to get on the ballot for the presidential primary here. He needed 500 signatures from Republican voters by Monday afternoon to make it.

His operation ended up only 209 signatures short. It came cantering into the Elections Department in Dover about 10 minutes before the deadline with petitions that appeared to be in order, but they were honeycombed with signatures that did not count because they were not from Republicans.

"A lot of independent voters, unaffiliated," said Paul Baldwin of the Elections Department.

There are more than 178,000 Republican voters in Delaware, and Thompson's campaign could not find 500 of them. He was ruled out of the primary.

The actor could not get his act together.

The setback frustrated some local Republicans who favored Thompson -- or more precisely, added to their frustration. Chief among them were Everett Moore, who was the Republican state chair from 2001 to 2003, and John Feroce, who ran for the state Senate in 2006.

Independent of one another, they had contacted the campaign during its lurch of a launch last summer. Thompson probably could not have asked for better backing here.

Moore, a Georgetown lawyer, is an experienced political hand who still commands respect in the party and especially in Sussex County, where Thompson could have been a fit for its conservative politics. Feroce, who was a Rhode Island legislator before moving to Middletown, is a former Army Reserves major with operational know-how. Each got nowhere.

"I had talked to the campaign very early on, and after two or three conversations, it died. It was just a total drop," Moore said.

"It just never happened. It speaks really to the top of the organization, not anything in Delaware," Feroce said.

Thompson's campaign realized only belatedly it needed signatures to get on the ballot. "They didn't reach out and ask folks to help until a week and a half or two weeks ago. They just waited too long to ask folks to assist," Feroce said.

The campaign sent in a couple of volunteers. The state Republican Party was mobilizing to provide signatures to any candidate at its headquarters in Wilmington or at party functions, with any number of Republicans agreeably signing multiple petitions, as is allowed, but Thompson's operatives failed to capitalize.

"It's a shame he's not on the ballot. It's very unfortunate, because I thought he brought something to the table," Moore said.

In addition to submitting signatures, candidates can participate in the Delaware primary by being declared eligible for presidential matching funds by the Federal Election Commission, but only if they are certified before Dec. 19. It is not looking good for Thompson there, either.

As any actor should know, the show must go on. The primary, set for Tuesday, Feb. 5, will proceed with a Republican field of six other candidates -- Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Tom Tancredo.

On the Democratic side, the ballot is still in flux. There are five candidates in line for it -- Joe Biden, the favorite son, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards and Barack Obama -- with Dennis Kucinich on hold because his application to be eligible for matching funds still is pending. Bill Richardson was not heard from.

State law does not allow write-in candidates in presidential primaries, so Thompson's loyalists do not even have that option available.

Feroce figures he will vote instead for either Giuliani or Romney. "I try never to miss a vote. I'm not going to disenfranchise myself due to somebody else's organizational skills," he said.

Moore has not let go yet. "I have no clue what I'll do. I'm going to sit back and watch," he said. "I have a client who's fond of saying, what is, is. That's where we are now."

In the case of Thompson, what is, isn't.