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Thompson shaking up his campaign staff

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson, who hasn't officially entered the presidential race, is shaking up his campaign staff, replacing his acting campaign manager with a former Michigan senator and a Florida Republican strategist.

Thompson spokeswoman Linda Rozett said acting campaign manager Tom Collamore, former vice president of food and tobacco giant Altria, still will advise the campaign. Collamore has helped organize the campaign for Thompson, who has not officially joined the race.

Thompson has established a "testing the waters" committee that allows him to raise money for a presidential bid. He is expected to formally kick off his candidacy in September, after the Labor Day holiday.

"The Friends of Fred Thompson have made a number of changes as they prepare to enter the next phase, adding new experience and political strength to the organization," Rozett said.

Replacing Collamore will be Randy Enright, who has served as Florida regional political director for the Republican National Committee, and Spencer Abraham, the former senator who lost his bid for re-election in 2000 to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

Enright also was executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa and the Republican Party of Florida.

Rozett said Enright and Abraham both would be in charge of Thompson's campaign. Enright is heading the political operation and Abraham doesn't yet have a title, Rozett said.

Scott Reed, a GOP strategist and campaign manager for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, said, "Collamore has put a good structure in place. Now the campaign can move to the next level with a formal announcement."

Thompson has not officially jumped into the nine-man Republican race but has raised several million dollars, hired staff and visited early primary states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The 64-year-old Southerner with Hollywood star power and mostly conservative Senate credentials fares well in national popularity polls. But he would enter the race some six months after the top-tier trio of Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain.

He trails several of them significantly in money and organization, raising questions about whether he can turn buzz on the Internet and in Washington into actual votes when the primaries begin in January.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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