Fred sends for the FranksJust when it appears the chips are down for Fred Thompson, Team Fred has sent the Tennessee Volunteer Army into Iowa. Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey has been there, along with an armada of the very best of Tennessee's conservative movement. I got a firsthand report of the situation on the ground in Iowa yesterday afternoon during a phone call with two of the participants in the fight for Iowa-my State Representative Frank Niceley is running all over the Hawkeye State, along with the dean of East Tennessee conservative columnists Frank Cagle.
Frank Niceley sounded cautiously optimistic, saying that he believed Fred was going to do better than what the polls were suggesting. He said that Mike Huckabee comes across as being quite shifty in person, and that Huckabee reminds him entirely too much of Bill Clinton to suit his tastes. "Maybe it is an Arkansas thing," Frank said, "but he just makes me think of Jimmy Carter." Frank said Clinton gave him the same feeling, and that he wanted a good Southerner as President. "I hate having to apologize for Southern Presidents. Carter, Clinton-I don't want to have to apologize for another."
If I am sure of one thing, it is that Frank Niceley could be a secret weapon for Fred wherever in Iowa he has gone. Like Fred, Frank has a folksy, homespun manner and could charm a rattlesnake. Unlike Fred and like many of the people he and Frank Cagle have encountered in the small Western Iowa towns they are visiting, Frank really is a farmer. He can speak to a lot of these folks on a level that few Presidential candidates can. When Frank Niceley speaks to Iowans about their lives and goes about explaining to them why Fred Thompson is the best choice for President, he can convince them straight into their neighborhood Caucus. One thing Frank Niceley was quick to point out was what a warm, hospitable welcome they had received in every little hamlet where they had set foot. People were glad to see them, and they acted like it.
Frank Cagle said that if there was one thing he had learned through participating in the campaign process in Iowa it is that "these polls don't mean anything." While polls are normally important, Frank C. said that he was absolutely stunned by the number of people who were undecided voters. He commented that he did not understand how, with all of the publicity surrounding the Iowa Caucuses, that so many folks could be undecided. Both Franks said they had met people who had not decided whether to caucus as Democrats or Republicans, and in one case, they met someone who was trying to decide between Fred and John Edwards!
We agreed together that Fred Thompson has to finish third in Iowa in order for the campaign to remain viable, but Frank C. said he really believed that could happen tonight-the number of undecided voters alone could swing the percentages high enough to boost Fred into third place-or perhaps higher. Frank C. said they had visited a town where Fred was set to hold a Christmas Eve event and everyone was very anxious to have him, but they had to reschedule the whole thing-not because Fred backed out, but because a blizzard blew in. Weather is not likely to keep the regulars away from caucusing tonight, but it has clearly had an impact on the candidates' ability to plan where to be and when in the lead-up to today's vote.
Frank C. said a lot of the towns they visited reminded him of small towns in Middle Tennessee with their courthouses and squares. Both men sounded tired and well-worn, but you could tell that they were also having a blast. The entire conversation had me a bit envious, for it made me wish I was in Iowa with the two Franks going from town to town campaigning for Fred (and if I had the ability, I would have been). If Fred does not do well tonight, it will not be from a lack of effort from the Tennessee conservative movement, because some of our best and brightest stars are on the ground for Team Thompson today. When it looked like the campaign was fading, Fred's people sent for the Tennessee conservative A-Team-veterans of the conservative warpath who are movement men and women to the bone. Frank Niceley and Frank Cagle are two prime examples of that, and both are men that I believe in at a very personal level and whose views, abilities, and experience I hold in such high esteem that the very knowledge that they are on the ground working the Iowa precincts for Fred Thompson causes me to believe we just might be in for a surprise tonight.