After South Carolina: Fred Thompson

UPDATE, 8:00 p.m.: As he battled for third with Romney in South Carolina, Fred Thompson delivered remarks from the USC campus that seem to suggest an imminent departure from the race. “My friends, we will always be bound by a close bond because we have traveled a very special road together for very special purpose," he said. "This has never been about me, it's never been about you." At that, reporters here at McCain's victory party burst into laughter. "Who's it about?" said one reporter. "His wife," said another.

Official answer: "the country." Go figure.

Final Pre-Primary Polling Average: Fourth Place, 14.6 percent
Current National Polling AverageFifth Place. 9.3 percent

Thompson has staked his entire bid on South Carolina, so the only thing that keeps him in contention is a win.

It would revive his moribund campaign and send him into Florida with unrivaled momentum. But it probably won't happen.

Thompson has only topped 20 percent in one recent poll--and it still showed him trailing Huckabee and McCain by five to 12 points. He typically lags by more. If Thompson wins--again, unlikely--he'll replace Huckabee, his rival for the right wing, as the fourth man in the Florida free-for-all on Jan. 29. If he finishes second--still a serious upset--he'll stick around for Florida, but unless he triumphs there, expect him to drop out soon after. And if he gets the bronze or worse tonight, Fredheads should prepare for an immediate withdrawal (and an endorsement of old friend John McCain).

"I’ve always said I have to do very well here," he said today during a brief chat with reporters at Lizard's Thicket restaurant in Columbia. "I stand by that." Asked what his plans were for Monday, Thompson repeated the question.

"Plans for Monday currently?" Thompson said. "Depends on the outcome. We'll see."