As the first Southern state prepares to vote, Thompson has conceded that a disappointing finish in Saturday's GOP primary would probably sink his chances. Other candidates have much to gain or lose here, but none more than the man whose candidacy has been one of the campaign's biggest puzzles.
Until now, Thompson has been overshadowed by his rivals. He ran third in Iowa, the state that vaulted former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee to the race's front ranks. He got 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, where Sen. John McCain of Arizona came back to life. He attracted 4 percent in Michigan on Tuesday, when former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney resuscitated his candidacy with a victory.
That is hardly the script written for the television and movie actor months ago as he began a high-profile effort to test enthusiasm for his campaign.
Now he is down to one state where he hopes that his combination of Southern roots and conservative views will lead to the breakthrough that has so far escaped him. He isn't reluctant to remind audiences here that he's kin. As he said at a West Columbia restaurant Thursday morning, "It's good to be back in home territory where they know how to cook green beans -- and they're not crunchy."
His rivals doubt his chances, but Thompson believes something is happening in the Palmetto State. Asked during a radio interview at the restaurant Thursday whether his efforts here represent a "too little, too late" strategy, he offered an upbeat assessment.
"We're clearly moving in the right direction," he said. "We had some ground to make up, but from what I can tell, we're moving up."
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