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Thompson to face high expectations

The former senator plans to officially kick off his presidential bid Thursday.

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He has played both a real president (Ulysses S. Grant) and a fictional one on TV, and now, at last, former actor/senator/lobbyist Fred Thompson is ready to audition for the real deal, as he unveils his presidential campaign via webcast on Thursday.

The 6-foot, 6-inch Tennesseean enters the race late and with sky-high expectations. National polls of Republican voters typically put Mr. Thompson in second place, behind former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

But polls also show "none of the above" scoring well or even at times in the lead – a sign, say Thompson backers, that GOP voters are unhappy with their choices. That's good news for Thompson, who was drafted to run after another former Tennessee senator, Bill Frist, opted out of the race. Now that Thompson is a full-fledged candidate, his supporters say, voters once hesitant about buying into a quasi-candidate can say he's their man.

In a way, Thompson has been running for months. He's been building his campaign staff, giving speeches, and raising money. But by keeping himself in "testing the waters" mode, not even filing papers to establish a exploratory committee, he has avoided some of the scrutiny that the fully declared candidates have faced.

He has not taken part in any of the Republican debates – and will miss the next one, on Wednesday night, preferring instead to appear on "The Tonight Show" – and has not competed as a coequal with the other GOP candidates in the fundraising race otherwise known as the "money primary."

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