|WASHINGTON (AFP) — Tough-talking screen star and former senator Fred Thompson is to announce next week his long-awaited bid for the White House in a move set to shake up the faltering Republican camp.|
Thompson, the craggy-faced star of TV drama "Law & Order" has finally ended months of suspense for his fans saying he would officially throw his hat into the ring for the 2008 presidential elections on Thursday.
Now "everyone's waiting to see if he can live up to expectations," said Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff for the late Hollywood star, turned president and Republican icon, Ronald Reagan.
The decision by Thompson, 65, adds another intriguing twist to one of the most colorful and wide-open White House races in recent history, with Democratic party candidates offering the possibility of the country's first female president or the first African-American commander-in-chief.
And it could light a fire under the Republican campaign, whose eight declared hopefuls have so far trailed the Democratic favorites in most polls and failed to excite many of the party faithful.
Despite the delay in joining rivals in the race as an official candidate, Thompson is faring well in opinion polls and is hoping to capitalize on disappointment with the Republican field among core conservative voters.
In an average of recent national surveys by the website Real Clear Politics, Thompson sits second to former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and is a clear top-tier candidate in polls in key states in the nominating process.
Guiliani remains a divisive figure among Republicans, seen as too moderate for his more liberal stands on gays, gun control and abortion.
Although another hopeful, Mitt Romney, is anti-abortion and gay marriage, the ex-governor of Massachusetts is accused of hiding a moderate political past. His Mormon faith is also viewed with suspicion by many on the Christian right.
And Arizona Senator John McCain, who stood against current President George W. Bush for the 2000 Republican nomination and lost, is struggling to keep his campaign alive and could be forced to pull out early.
The 71-year-old war veteran has lagged behind on fund-raising and has already been forced to make swingeing cuts in his campaign staff to stay afloat.
Thompson is hoping to cash in on his acting roles as the tough defender of law and order and other powerful figures to win support.
"He can run solely on his image," said Martin Kaplan, director of a research center at the University of Southern California.
Thompson has been holding forth on his new website "ImwithFred.com," calling for higher defense spending, lower taxes and sticking with Bush's "surge" strategy in Iraq.
He harbors a dark world view of looming future threats and has accused NATO allies of slumbering through a showdown with Al-Qaeda's forces of "nihilism."
But his long-running phantom candidacy has also exerted a price, with many pundits asking whether he has squandered precious political capital by waiting so long.
He has also engineered several campaign shake-ups and endured gossipy accounts of supposed overreaching by his wife and advisor Jeri.
Thompson skeptics also point to his disappointing fundraising haul of just 3.4 million dollars in June. His backers, however, predict money will pour in when he enters the race for real.
"My sense is, if we can make it through the first 30 days, we'll win," said one Thompson adviser.