Could Fred Thompson please the right?
Speculation rises over a possible run for president by the former Republican senator from Tennessee.
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"He only wants to run if he can become president," said Rep. Zach Wamp, a Tennessee Republican behind the House effort to draft him into the race. "This is not a Bob Dole campaign, where it's someone's turn to be our nominee."Skip to next paragraph
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GOP analysts say his celebrity would partly make up for a late entry into the race. But they say he would still need to hustle for cash and a campaign team. "The big question is whether he can catch up in the race for money and organization," says Republican strategist Terry Holt. "McCain, Giuliani, and Romney are miles ahead in those categories."
Thompson grew up the son of a used-car dealer in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., and supported a young family while in college. He was serving as an assistant US attorney in Nashville, when the man who would become his political mentor, Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker Jr., named him chief Republican counsel to the Senate Watergate committee in 1973. At the hearings, Thompson famously asked the question that exposed President Nixon's secret White House taping system.
He had returned to life as a lawyer and lobbyist when he was asked to play himself in the 1985 movie "Marie," about a whistle-blower he defended in a clemency-selling scheme during the corrupt administration of Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton. His acting career was born.
In 1994, he trounced a rival in a special election for the Senate seat that Al Gore had vacated to become vice president. He was easily reelected in 1996. He led hearings into campaign fundraising abuses, and he voted for a campaign-finance reform bill that remains a political liability for him with many conservatives.
One constant in his voting record is a distaste for federal bureaucracy and an impatience with the procedural rigmaroles on Capitol Hill. His belief that most policymaking should be left to the states led to votes against popular bills to toughen drunken-driving laws and ban guns near schools.
He announced that he would not seek a second full term, but changed his mind after 9/11. Then he reversed course again, leaving the Senate for good in 2002 after the death of his adult daughter from an accidental prescription-drug overdose. He remarried the same year, and he and his second wife have two young children.
On Friday night, Thompson took the podium to the theme song from "Law & Order." In a dark suit and tie – no blue jeans, this time – the 6-foot, 6-inch Thompson took aim at federal red tape, said that the lax border security put the country at risk of terrorism, and suggested he would ask older Americans to accept changes in Social Security to keep the system solvent for their children.
He said an early pullout from Iraq would make the Middle East a "haven for terrorism" and embolden nations, like Iran, with nuclear ambitions. He also denounced a tax system in which "5 percent of the people pay over half of the taxes."
Speaking of the "liberals in Washington," he said, "Of course, they're talking about once again targeting the rich. My advice for anybody in the middle class: Don't stand anywhere near the target."
The line drew one of the night's biggest rounds of laughter and applause, and many people left impressed, if still noncommittal.
"He mentioned issues that we all have been looking for the candidates to stand solid on," said Mary Hobbs, a writer and teacher.
Tom Barnett, a power-plant developer who said he was undecided in the Republican primary but leaning toward Mr. Romney, described Thompson as an "immensely likable guy."
"But, unfortunately, at this stage in the race, with so many viable candidates, to elbow them out of the way you have to get people's attention," he said. "I'm not sure I saw that tonight."