Thompson comes out swinging in South Carolina

Throughout his presidential campaign, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (R) has been dogged by questions about whether he wants to win the White House. On Thursday night, he answered those critics by delivering his best debate performance when he needed it most.

However, it might be too little, too late for Thompson. He has performed poorly in the previous contests, had his commitment questioned and his campaign appears to have some money problems.

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Right out of the gate, Thompson criticized former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who could be his main competition in the fight for the votes of Christian conservatives.

“He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies,” Thompson said early in the debate. He also asserted the Huckabee was following the model of the Democratic Party and not that of former president Ronald Reagan, whose name was again invoked numerous times.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who dished out and was on the receiving end of most criticism during previous GOP debates, was not as active in the South Carolina debate. The state is holding its “first in the South” primary next week and it could be a crucial moment for many of the candidates.

Thompson, following poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, needs a great result to allow him to remain in the race as a viable candidate. Huckabee needs to position himself as the top candidate for southern voters and McCain must have a strong showing to capitalize on his win in New Hampshire. Romney also must do well after not winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. However, the former governor is concentrating on Michigan, hoping to notch his first win in a significant race.

The debate began with a question of whether the country is headed toward a recession. Romney and McCain clashed on the issue with the former governor saying that the country might be headed toward a recession but the senator saying it is not.

Romney hit McCain on a statement that some jobs from states like Michigan or South Carolina are gone and will not come back.

“I’m going to fight for every single job, Michigan, South Carolina, every state in this country,” Romney said. 

Meantime, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), who had been excluded from the last debate, bristled at the Fox News hosts for asking him questions unrelated to what the other candidates were talking about.

When asked about whether he was electable, Paul said that he is the most conservative candidate in the field.

“Are you suggesting the Republicans should write me off because I'm a strict constitutionalist?” Paul asked, adding, “So you’re suggesting that I'm not electable and the Republicans don't want me because I'm a strict fiscal conservative, because I believe in civil liberties? Why should we not be defending civil liberties and why should we not be talking about foreign policy that used to be the part of the Republican Party?”

While most candidates managed to get in their talking points and one-liners, it appears as though Thompson was the winner Thursday night. A Fox News focus group overwhelmingly believed that the former senator had done the best job but also questioned whether it was enough to turn around an ailing campaign.