Fred Thompson says he wants to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. But that's not likely to happen unless the former senator spends more time meeting the voters of New Hampshire.

Thompson has many of the basic attributes needed in a presidential contender. He has broad name recognition thanks to his career as a television and movie actor. And he has political experience. Those two factors give him the ability to raise a great deal of money in a hurry.

But while many people know who Thompson is, few know where he stands. And on that matter, Thompson is doing little to help himself.

Savvy politicians know that campaigning in New Hampshire is key to a winning presidential campaign. Candidates who are out on the streets of the Granite State get to meet real voters and hear their concerns. It makes them better politicians. And in return, voters get to see what kind of people the candidates really are. They hear them speak and explain their positions without reading from carefully crafted statements vetted by public relations firms.

Despite all the wrangling over the dates for the early primaries, New Hampshire will continue to play a leading role in presidential campaigning. State law requires that its primary remains the first in the nation. The national media will continue to cover the candidates as they campaign through the state. And a poor showing in New Hampshire will still make it difficult for a candidate to do well in the states that follow.

Other presidential candidates | Republican and Democrat | are spending more time in New Hampshire than Thompson. He was late entering the race. He announced his candidacy at the beginning of September, more than a year after some of his fellow candidates began exploratory visits to the Granite State. And Thompson made his announcement on Jay Leno's Tonight Show, rather than appear at a nationally televised debate at the University of New Hampshire.

Thompson's campaign Web site shows him stumping in Michigan and across the South, where perhaps the Tennessee native feels he has a better chance at winning. But a finish among the also-rans in New Hampshire may render Southern primaries moot for Thompson.

A headline on the Thompson Web site proclaims "Fred Eats a Pastry at Versailles in Miami." Thompson ought to be eating a doughnut at Mary Ann's Diner in Derry.

Thompson's campaign hasn't gotten off to a very good start. But the candidate can turn that around by recognizing that the road to the White House still starts in New Hampshire.

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