Actor finds politics his toughest role

WASHINGTON Republican Fred Thompson has faced a series of bumps in his preliminary campaign, casting doubt on the strength of his would-be candidacy and raising questions about his potential for success.

Despite the difficulties, the "Law & Order" actor and former Tennessee senator continues to post strong marks in national surveys and early primary state polls five months before voting begins. But his transformation from a man simply flirting with a bid to one on the brink of an official candidacy has been far from smooth the past few months.

His challenge: living up to the hopes of dispirited Republicans searching for a conservative to rally around in the wide-open race.

"The expectation levels are sky high right now, so that means if you don't meet them financially, you don't meet them organizationally and you don't meet them message-wise, you're in trouble," said Joe Gaylord, a Republican consultant close to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who also may enter the GOP race.