10/10/2007 11:26 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thompson Stays Awake, Squeaks by on Big Test

The sixth Republican presidential debate was pass-fail for former Senator Fred Thompson. To succeed, all he needed to do was stay alert and not nod off in the middle of an answer.

That doesn't mean the audience didn't doze off every so often. There was a build-up to this one, largely because it was a chance to see Thompson in action, and a letdown when it didn't deliver a totally new and improved product. Up to now, Thompson's hallmark has been to coast on folksy platitudes. He'd become the world-weary district attorney he played on TV.

It wasn't working. The reviews were bad, not just from the elites in the national press he tries to avoid such as conservative columnist George Will, who called Thompson's plunge into the race "more belly flop than swan dive.'' The local press was underwhelmed as well, wondering how Thompson could come to Florida and not have an opinion on drilling in the Everglades or on Terri Schiavo.

As the debate progressed, the problem for Thompson wasn't that he was unprepared, but that he wasn't in the scrum. A funny thing happened on his way to his first debate. The race had already gelled around former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

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