Who Will Top the GOP Ticket? And Can They Keep the White House?

Once she signed on to the "Draft Fred Thompson 2008 Committee" at the beginning of the year, Downingtown resident Judy Davidson — who is convinced that no other candidate can win the White House in 2008 — anxiously awaited the moment when the former U.S. senator from Tennessee and well-known star of "Law & Order" would plunge into the presidential fray.

When Thompson finally declared himself a candidate for the nation's highest office earlier this month — first on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and then on his campaign Web site — Davidson, 55, hosted a house party to laud the decision, one of a number of such gatherings held around the country.

For the occasion, she whipped up a batch of "Fredzels"– kosher, Philly-style salted treats. Thompson thanked Davidson's guests via a conference call; he placed similar calls to several dozen such house parties being held across the country.

"He's a person that pulls people together — and I think this country needs him. There's been enough bashing," said Davidson, who pointed out that she's also serving as the campaign's unofficial point person in Pennsylvania until a professional staffer is tapped.

"I look at his overall message," she continued. "He's a federalist and is strong on states' rights, fiscal conservancy, protecting Israel and homeland security."

Thompson's long-anticipated jump into the political waters made a decided splash, although perhaps not as big a one as supporters would have hoped.

According to the latest Harris poll, released last week, a third of likely GOP primary voters picked the Tennessean. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani placed a close second with 28 percent; Arizona Sen. John McCain had 11 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got 9 percent.

On the other hand, the latest USA Today/Gallop Poll had Giuliani in the lead with 30 percent and Thompson in second with 22 percent.

While New York Sen. Hillary Clinton maintains a commanding lead over her Democratic rivals in the polls — many GOP voters expect her to earn the nomination and are focused on keeping her from returning to the White House — the Republican race appears to be up for grabs and the result more difficult to predict.

For months, some in the party have seen Thompson as the antidote to Giuliani, who presents many problems for social conservatives because of his pro-choice position and rocky personal history, which includes a messy public divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover.

Nevertheless, the evangelical community has been wary of embracing Thompson, who first gained notoriety as a young attorney during the Watergate hearings, and who has appeared in such films as "Cape Fear" and "The Hunt for Red October."

Steven L. Friedman, a Center City lawyer who serves on Giuliani's national finance committee, doesn't buy the argument that Republicans are reluctant to support "America's mayor."

"Giuliani is clearly well-versed on the Middle East and world security issues and, in terms of his positions on some social issues, he becomes the most viable Republican candidate who can contest for the center of the American electorate," relayed Friedman, who has been on the national and local boards of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and also served as general counsel to the Likud Party USA.

"We want a candidate who can win on core Republican values, which include preserving the economy, and someone who will maintain the devotion and attachment to the State of Israel," he continued.

But how does Giuliani — or whoever represents the party at the top of the ticket — deal with the wide unpopularity of President Bush and the war in Iraq?

"I think this is a very winnable election," asserted Friedman. "I'm looking at the Democratic performance in Congress, which is trying to micromanage the war in Iraq. Obviously, people are not happy with the fact that we are at war right now, but the question is, how do you continue it and resolve it in a way that's consistent with American interests?"

The McCain and Romney camps insist that their candidates are still in the mix. But while Romney has proven to be the top Republican fundraiser with $43 million as of June 30, McCain has struggled, amassing just $25 million. The latest round of filing ends on Sept. 30.

Both pols are especially looking to the early states to propel their momentum. Romney's invested heavily in Iowa and New Hampshire, while McCain is looking for a repeat of his 2000 triumph in New Hampshire.

Hersh Kozlov, a lawyer based in Cherry Hill, N.J., who serves on Romney's national finance committee, thinks that the man perhaps best known for salvaging the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City is the one with the broadest appeal.

"What makes him electable is his capacity to govern," said Kozlov, who's long been active in New Jersey politics and is a member of Congregation M'kor Shalom in Cherry Hill. "Executive experience is important."



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