Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson formally began raising money this week for his long-shot presidential bid, and one expert said he'll need at least $35 million over the next six months for donors, the media and voters to see him as a serious contender.
"This is not easy. By June he's got to have raised between, let's say, $35 (million) and $50 million to be considered a viable candidate. And he's not alone," said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Cook Political Report, an independent nonpartisan newsletter on electoral politics.
Thompson, 65, became the latest Republican to file paperwork establishing an exploratory committee for president when he registered this week with the Federal Election Commission. That allows him to start raising and spending money on a presidential bid. It also requires him to disclose that information, giving competitors and the public a chance to see how much financial support he has received.
Earlier this month, Thompson signed up Iowa consultant Steve Grubbs to run his campaign there, said Rodman P. Hise, treasurer of the Thompson Presidential Exploratory Committee 2008.
Grubbs is a former Iowa state representative and state GOP chairman. He was an adviser to magazine publisher Steve Forbes, who placed second in the Iowa presidential caucuses in 2000.
In addition to Grubbs, Thompson has formed a core group of advisers from his previous gubernatorial campaigns who have put the fundraising and grass-roots organizing infrastructure in place to develop a strong candidacy, Hise said.
Hise wouldn't disclose those advisers. But Phil Prange, a GOP consultant and fundraiser, said Friday that he would help Thompson raise money for the bid.
Hise, a former deputy communications director when Thompson was governor, and Prange, a fundraiser for Thompson in the past, wouldn't say how much money they hoped to raise.
Thompson, a lawyer and health-care consultant, was traveling Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.
But Hise said Thompson developed a strong track record as Wisconsin governor from 1987 to 2001 and as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bush that will play well in Iowa and New Hampshire. Iowa holds the first caucuses in the country in 2008, and state Republicans will take a straw poll on Aug. 11, 2007. New Hampshire holds the first 2008 primary.
"Tommy Thompson is a viable presidential candidate because he has a strong record of turning terrific ideas into even better public policy," Hise said. "As a campaigner, his enthusiasm for retail, one-on-one campaigning is unmatched. And he is exactly the kind of retail campaigner who can be very successful in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.
"The field for the Republican presidential nomination is wide open, and Governor Thompson's trips over the last six to eight weeks into Iowa have been very successful. He's been very well received," Hise said.
Ryan Veenstra, 27, a funeral home owner who chairs the Clinton County GOP in Iowa, said Thompson appeals to Iowans because he seems like them.
"I'm a Tommy Thompson fan. Even as a kid, I always admired him," Veenstra said. "He just seems to be a normal guy that rides a Harley. He has that average Joe about him."
Rebekah Brandmeyer, 31, executive director of the Polk County GOP in Iowa, agreed. But, she said, "In general, people don't know him nearly as well" as other candidates such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Other possible Republican candidates include Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Duffy said McCain and Giuliani are the front-runners now but that Thompson has as good a chance as anyone else to emerge from their shadows.
"At some point an alternative will emerge to the McCain-Giuliani axis," Duffy said. "Thompson has just as good a chance as a Mike Huckabee or a Sam Brownback."
Charles Franklin, a UW-Madison political science professor, said Thompson's innovations on welfare reform and school vouchers as governor give him a track record to appeal to Republicans. But Franklin said Thompson is virtually unknown outside of the Midwest -- even after serving in Bush's cabinet -- and doesn't have experience competing on the national stage.
Franklin said Thompson could be a good vice-presidential candidate, depending upon who is the nominee. But Franklin also said Thompson would have to make a strong caucus and primary showing to land that spot.
Hise said Thompson isn't angling to be a running mate.
"We've been putting together an organization and infrastructure to run for president and that's what we're focused on," Hise said.