Just a week into Law & Order: White House Edition, Thompson appears to be locked in a head-to-head struggle with Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll shows Thompson running at 27 percent among registered Republicans–just under Giuliani’s 28 percent. Considering the fact that the survey’s margin of error is 5 percent, it’s apparent that the left-of-center Giuliani and the right-of-center Thompson are caught in a statistical tie. In August, before he joined the Presidential cavalcade, Thompson was running at 22 percent, meaning that his poll numbers are heading in the right direction.

As might be expected, Thompson holds the lead among conservative voters, voters over the age of 50, Southerners, and men. Meanwhile, Giuliani has the edge among self-proclaimed moderates, voters under age 50, those in the Northeast and Midwest, and female voters.

At this point, Thompson offers plenty of novelty, avoiding the conventional platform of intra-party debates and opting for an appearance on Leno instead. He’s also considered Reaganesque, given his acting background, his communications skills, and his conservative credentials.

But does Thompson have the fire, money, and motivation to beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in a general election? The CNN poll finds Hollywood’s leading man trailing the former First Lady, 55 to 42 percent. Interestingly enough, in a June poll, the gap was much narrower–50 to 46 percent. Could it be that Thompson has already lost some of his star power, a full year before the general election? It’s also telling that, at this point in the game, Sen. Barack Obama would also beat Thompson, 53 to 41 percent.

One analyst was quoted as saying that Thompson still lacks name recognition. According to one poll, a sizeable number of Americans say they’ve never heard of him–though, chances are, they have seen his face on the small screen or at their local Cineplex.

It should also be pointed out that it’s still a long way to travel to the Republican nomination. Thompson will need to raise about $ 20 million fast–no small feat, even for a Hollywood hit-maker. He’ll also have to have a strong showing in the early states in order to have the momentum to capture the grand GOP prize.

He’ll also need to avoid gaffes such as his recent statement that bin Laden is “more symbolism than anything else.”

Thompson also must define himself as a candidate–to set himself apart from the rest of the pack. While his previous day jobs might have been glamorous, he’ll need to demonstrate that he has the substance, as well as the sizzle, to lead his party to victory in 2008.

According to the Charlotte Observer, at a campaign stop in Columbia, Thompson stated, “There’ve been a lot of people saying, ‘When’s Fred going to get in?’ You don’t have to be in somebody’s face for two years to be elected President.”

That may be true, but, before an American family will invite you to sit at the head of their table, they have to get to know you first. And, unless Thompson has the money and manpower to clearly define who he is and what he will do as President, his popularity will wane faster than the box office appeal of the latest fall releases.