Thompson quits US presidential race

 

Republican Fred Thompson dropped out as a US presidential candidate today, ending a short-lived campaign that got off to a late start and never gathered much steam.

Mr Thompson, a former Tennessee senator whose hangdog face is familiar to millions of Americans from his movie and television roles, pulled out of the race after finishing a distant third in South Carolina on Saturday and not doing well in New Hampshire and Iowa.

"Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for president of the United States. I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort," Mr Thompson said in a statement.

Speculation immediately centered on whether Mr Thompson would endorse Arizona Republican Senator John McCain or someone else. Both Mr Thompson and Mr McCain served in the Senate together and have strong stances on national security.

Thompson advisers doubted an endorsement was coming, at least in the short term and possibly not at all.

Many political pundits believe Mr Thompson drew support away from former Arkansas Govenor Mike Huckabee in South Carolina, helping Mr McCain to a narrow victory over Mr Huckabee there.

In an MSNBC interview after Mr Thompson pulled out, Mr Huckabee said Mr Thompson's departure would redound to his benefit and complained about Mr Thompson's attacks on him in South Carolina.

"His being in the race had the biggest impact on me in South Carolina," Mr Huckabee said. "We still feel like we would've won South Carolina if there had been a margin and Fred had not been there."

Mr Thompson's senior adviser, Rich Galen, said that his message to Mr Huckabee was: "Don't blame it on us."

He said Mr Huckabee's last-minute decision to return to Michigan ahead of its vote a week ago, instead of concentrating on South Carolina, might have hurt Huckabee.

"I didn't tell him to go to Michigan and waste four days and who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars," Galen said.

Mr Thompson (65) finally jumped into the race in September after spending months in a "testing the waters" phase that tested the patience of his supporters who were attracted to him for his strong conservative credentials.

Once he did enter the race, he opened his campaign with an appearance on NBC's "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, instead of attending a Republican debate in New Hampshire.

Despite an acting career that gives him a natural gravitas, Mr Thompson's campaign appearances were largely panned by political reporters as less than dynamic. Early on he also flubbed the answers to some relatively predictable questions.

After seeing himself climb into second place in national opinion polls in October, Mr Thompson's poll numbers plunged steadily amid a widespread perception that he simply did not want the job badly enough.