April 18 and May 4 are dates to circle, although a formal announcement isn’t expected until late next month — at the earliest. Assuming he announces at all, that is.

Which, it sure looks like he will:

Though Thompson has shown well in some polls since he said he was actively considering a presidential bid, the hurdles to such a late start are many. And some people who worked with him in the Senate question his willingness to do the brutal work of a national campaign. But friends and advisers say Thompson has been buoyed by the response so far at a time when many Republicans are openly expressing disappointment with their presidential field.

“The outreach to him has been so overwhelming that he is now starting to talk to people to really calibrate what it would take to run a successful campaign,’’ the adviser said. “He’s talking to some of the top unaligned strategists and fundraisers. He’s said: ‘I’m seriously considering it, and I’m happy to hear your thoughts and ideas.’”

Here’s your line of the day, courtesy of “Law & Order” producer Dick Wolf:

“Look, I’ve met every president since Nixon,” said Wolf, an independent who supported Bill Clinton. “When they focus their attention on you, it’s like a light goes on. They have this unique ability to make you feel like you’re the only one in the room.

“I don’t know if it’s a gift or a trick, but Fred’s got it.”

Wolf finds Thompson’s potential candidacy interesting. He’s even had conversations with him about it.

“We talked about it in the abstract,” Wolf recounted. “I said, ‘You should run.’ He said, ‘Really, why?’ I said, ‘Because I don’t think there’s anyone out there who can appeal to the base.’ ”

Wolf said he could easily see Thompson running and winning.

“When Fred Thompson walks in a room, people want to salute,” Wolf said.

Exit question: When will the first Fred campaign commercial featuring that line appear? I’m thinking September.