Thompson’s Slow Start

For months, social conservatives have viewed Fred Thompson as a Reaganesque savior in a dreary field of GOP presidential hopefuls. But the former Tennessee senator's early days on the campaign trail have left some prominent evangelicals underwhelmed. "I'm personally not that impressed," says Paul Weyrich, a veteran strategist who cofounded the Moral Majority.

One sticking point: Thompson's stance on a same-sex marriage ban. On the trail, he has declined to endorse a constitutional amendment blocking gay marriage, instead backing a broader amendment that would bar states from imposing their laws on other states. "The [marriage ban] approach has been tried in Congress, but can't even get a majority," Thompson told the Christian Broadcasting Network. That's not good enough for some on the right, and it has cost Thompson, at least for now, endorsements from members of the Arlington Group, an influential coalition of the nation's top conservative leaders. "It's a deal breaker," Weyrich told NEWSWEEK. A second Arlington member, who didn't want to be identified discussing private conversation, confirmed the hesitation. "Nobody wants to make a rash decision," the member says.

But it's not just policy that has people worried. Some on the right question whether Thompson is ready for prime time after a series of stumbles on the trail. In Florida, he seemed unprepared for questions about Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman at the center of the heated 2005 right-to-die case. "That's going back in history," he said. "I can't remember the details of it." His poll numbers are still strong—the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had him running six points behind Rudy Giuliani—but if he expects to get any closer, his memory isn't the only thing that will need to improve.