Lights, cameras ... !

It is pleasing to contemplate the possibility of surprises in the 2008 presidential race. There will certainly be some — there always are — but the early start and speed of the journey to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. this cycle has suggested more of a procession than a genuine contest, except among the top-tier candidates. Several second-tier candidates whom one might have looked to catch fire have already instead been extinguished.

The only occupants of the top tier for some time have been Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Some commentators, among them The Hill’s Dick Morris, have suggested that the dynamics of the race, with the nationalization of the campaign and primary process, could mean it’s all over before it has even officially begun in Iowa 10 months from now.

But then along come some delightful possibilities, such as the one reported by this newspaper last Friday, that actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) is testing the waters for a run. If Thompson — best known for his role in TV’s “Law and Order” and parts in movies such as “The Hunt for Red October” — were to run on a law-and-order ticket in the GOP hunt for a red November 2008, it would certainly add some Hollywood color to the proceedings.

Whether it would alter the course of the race is less certain, but Thompson could be more than merely an intriguing distraction from the real events of the Republican selection process. He has wide name recognition, which would help make up for his late entry (should it come), and he also has many high-level contacts; it was he who escorted current Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts around the Capitol, introducing him to senators before the Judiciary Committee began its confirmation hearings.

He would probably not, however, be regarded as a savior by the many conservative Republicans disgruntled by the choice offered to them at present. Although they balk at many of their frontrunners’ policy positions, Thompson would not necessarily thrill them, for he is a supporter of campaign-finance reforms that some of them see as trampling the First Amendment.

Still, who apart from the other contenders will not welcome news that the road to the White House is more than a monotonous highway stretching to the horizon still 20 months away?