Knoxville (WVLT) - For months, a number of Tennessee Republicans have insisted that the hunt for victory next November lays in the hands of the lawyer-turned-actor-turned senator-turned actor-who helped give us "The Hunt for Red October." Fred Dalton Thompson.
Now: Signs he may be ready to lock next Monday and load, his run for president--Independence day.
"We'll see. I mean it doesn't matter what we say beforehand does it?" Thompson said.
True when he was investigating campaign finances 10 years ago. Truer still a month and a half ago.
"I'm thinking about running for President," Thompson said.
"He's fairly comfortable being a non-candidate right now," said Lloyd Daughterty from the Tennessee Conservative Union.
At least til next Monday when a political insider website claims Fred Thompson will form an exploratory committee after asking, or getting, 100 donors to raise $50,000 apiece.
"The conference call happened, I was on the call," Rep. Zach Wamp said.
Which, Congressman Zach Wamp admits, doesn't get Thompson in, but after a "Draft Fred" movement he's co-chaired:
"Got over 30,000 people to volunteer to help him. We now are at a stage for him to start raising money," Wamp said.
"If you don't have the monetary support, there's no reason to run," Former Knox County GOP Chair Brian Hornback said.
"He's doing it his own way," Wamp said.
Talking, and hawking familiar themes, from his TV AND political careers.
"You wouldn't think you'd have to make the lower tax case
again," Thompson said.
At Republican dinners and fundraisers all over the country.
"The biggest problem that we have today is what I believe is the disconnect," Thompson said.
"Some are going to question his conservative record. Some are going to say he's never been visible on abortion. Frankly, I think that's going to be a tough position for them to make," Daughterty said.
Tougher for Thompson, the head of Tennessee's Conservative Union says, selling himself as a battle-hardened and ready.
"They've never had a real tough race," Daughterty said.
"You can tell he is focused now on the particular challenge," Wamp said.
Cold comfort for ten already in and folks straddling whom to back.
"Do you know where you are right now?" Gordon asked.
"I really haven't decided. Like I said, we'll wait and see if Senator Thompson gets in," Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam said.
But if he's still not by Independence Day?
"After Labor Day, anybody gets in after that point is dead in the water," Hornback said.
Tennessee is one of several states holding primaries in February, meaning Republicans could have their nominee by late March.
Un-announced, Fred Thompson has polled second or third against name candidates who already have raised at least $15 million.