ABC News' Christine Byun reports: With the Iowa caucus date in sight, Republican candidate Fred Thompson said he needs to finish closer to the top of the heap this Thursday night.
"I need to come in second," Thompson told reporters at a campaign event in Ames, Iowa. (He has said he WANTS to finish second - on CNN's American Morning - but today he said NEEDS to, which caused all of the traveling press to question his staff at length, post-avail. They didn't provide any further clarification.)
By declaring that he needs to do better than he's polled for months, Thompson risks setting a bar so high for himself that a third-place victory -- which would be something of an achievement for his struggling campaign -- is a self-imposed disappointment. Under his own rules, Thompson could beat Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the caucuses and still be setting himself up to drop out of the race.
For the past couple of days, Thompson, who has been polling behind rivals Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, has been trying to break ahead of the rest of the GOP nominees. When pressed by reporters, he would not speculate what would happen to his candidacy if he did not finish near the top.
Pacing in front of a crowd, the former Tennessee senator - dressed in a dark suit and maroon tie - laid out his pitch to another group of Iowans on his statewide tour. He says it's the same message he's been touting since his September announcement - and all his political career.
"I have been a strong consistent common sense conservative everyday of my political career," Thompson said. "That's not gonna change. I am not going to change. Let the political world swirl around me. Let everybody run their attack ads, spend their money ... But I am going to be the same ... I think that will serve us well in the end."Thompson is relying on his record to convince voters to caucus for him Thursday night -- and said he believed "consistency" would be his party's success in uprooting next year's Democratic nominee.
When an audience member asked if Thompson could beat Senator Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., for the White House, Thompson joked, "Like a drum!" The audience laughed and clapped, but Thompson became serious as he discussed the Republican's chances for the White House next year. After cautiously acknowledging the Democratic nominee might not be Clinton, Thompson stressed that his party's nominee needs to avoid being "like a feather in the wind" and stand strong for their principles.
"Be yourself. Come with the ideas that you believe in. That's what people are looking for," Thompson said.