Chris Cillizza has an item suggesting that Fred Thompson may actually participate in the Ames straw poll. If true, it may breathe new life into the event after the pullout by Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. And it could transform it into a contest for the mantle of conservative alternative between Thompson and Mitt Romney.
A comparison might be the 1996 Louisiana caucuses. That year, Louisiana leapfrogged ahead of Iowa in the schedule. Most of the big candidates, including frontrunner Bob Dole, decided to forgo the caucuses in deference to Iowa. But not all of them — the caucus became an early fight on the right between Phil Gramm and Pat Buchanan (Alan Keyes also participated). Gramm, the $20 million man, was expected to do well. Instead Buchanan beat him in Louisiana, beginning the process that knocked Gramm out of the race.
Fred Thompson is very different from Pat Buchanan and Mitt Romney might not turn out to be Phil Gramm. But it’s a cautionary tale for Romney and a potentially interesting spectacle for the rest of us.