Poll shows insiders mixed about Thompson’s late-arriving campaign

Political insiders are unimpressed by former Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R-Tenn.) early advertising, but most don’t think he’s severely hampered himself with his late entry into the Republican presidential field, according to a poll by Wilson Research Strategies.

The poll showed respondents of all political persuasions are largely optimistic about Thompson’s chances, although some have reservations about his rumored laziness on the campaign trail and a spate of early staff departures.

Fifty percent said Thompson’s late entry does not hurt his chances of securing his party’s nomination, and when asked what is the latest date a candidate can enter the race and win, 66 percent placed it in September or later. But 33 percent said he waited “too long.”

After months of speculation, Thompson announced his presidential bid earlier this month on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and with a Web video. More than two-fifths of respondents said the non-traditional announcement helps his campaign.

While a plurality are unsure about critics’ assertions that Thompson is a lazy campaigner, 26 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement. Thirty-six percent disagreed.

A quarter of GOPers said the numerous staff departures, some after only a few weeks with his campaign, are a sign of weakness, while 64 percent attributed them to “growing pains.”

The laziness and staff turnover numbers show “that insiders are unsure of exactly how he will perform on a national stage, and just like most other voters, are keeping a close eye on his campaign, messages and themes,” said the CEO of Wilson Research Strategies, Chris Wilson.

A majority of both Republicans and Democrats said Thompson’s career as an actor — he played District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s “Law & Order” and has appeared in numerous films — gives him an advantage in both the primary and general election.

While nearly half (46 percent) of GOPers thought Thompson’s entry hurt former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the most in the Republican field, the same percentage of Democrats thought former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani suffers the most.

Meanwhile, a pre-announcement Thompson television ad scored poorly, garnering just a 3.7 on a scale of zero to 10 for its memorability. It scored a 3.4 as an ad that respondents would talk about and a 4.2 for its strength of message.

The ad features Thompson talking about how the country cannot become less safe, less prosperous, or more divided, and it invites viewers to his website for his announcement. It scored equally bad among the 215 Republicans, Democrats and independents surveyed.

“Expectations were high, and this is certainly not the way Republicans had hoped he would announce,” Wilson said.

Working with The Hill for its Air War feature, Wilson Research Strategies e-mails campaign or issue ads to survey participants who view the ads and rate their effectiveness on several criteria.