Thompson Readies for Presidential Campaign

Republican actor and ex-Senator Fred Thompson from Tennessee is expected to start raising money for a presidential run. How do Republicans feel about him?

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

The already crowded Republican presidential field could soon be expanding. Actor and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson is expected to start raising money for a potential campaign tomorrow. He's also putting together a campaign organization. These are considered the last steps before Fred Thompson officially declares his intention to run for resident. His message got a test run last night in Richmond, Virginia, where he was the keynote speaker at a state GOP fundraiser.

NPR's Audie Cornish is in Richmond and joins us now. Audie, did Fred Thompson sound and act like a presidential candidate last night?

AUDIE CORNISH: Well, I guess you could say that he did, but you can also say that he almost always sounds like that. And his trade as an actor is - sort of authority figure, and he's played presidents before. Last night, he sort of alluded to the idea of running, and he really drew a warm reception from the crowd. So he seems like someone who's most definitely interested.

ELLIOT: What issues was he talking about? Did he have anything memorable to say in his speech?

CORNISH: Thompson really seemed to outline a couple of main themes last night, and maybe we'll be seeing this more in the future. But one of which he talked a little bit about small government and keeping taxes low. He also spent a lot of time talking about national security. But the thing that really drew the most attention and got him a standing ovation was his comments on immigration.

Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Former Republican Senator, Tennessee): This is our home, and whether you're a first generation American or third-generation American or a brand newly minted American, this is our home and we get to decide who comes into our home.

(Soundbite of applause)

ELLIOT: Audie, I can hear that the crowd responded to him favorably there. What did they have to say about him as a presidential candidate?

CORNISH: Well, I think most people said that they welcomed another addition to the pool. There was a lot of conversation about the dissatisfaction with the top-tier candidates, and I think right now people consider those to be Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney. And more or less, each one of them has some issue that does not make them quite palatable to the really more conservative wing of the party. And for instance, one gentleman here named Keith Damon(ph), who's a volunteer was already wearing a Fred Thompson '08 sticker.

Mr. KEITH DAMON (Republican Volunteer): I have not been satisfied with the other candidates. I'm looking for someone who is consistent - a consistent conservative Republican. And I'm happy with what I hear from Fred Thompson.

CORNISH: And so to this crowd last night, Fred Thompson really showed that not only did he have sort of the name recognition and the sort of Hollywood aura, but more specifically he had a great turn of phrase and speaking ability, and was able to articulate firmly some of the conservative ideas that - the really core part of the party is interested in seeing articulated at a national level.

ELLIOTT: Audie, there are 10 presidential candidates on the Republican side right now, Thompson is not in the lineup for Tuesday's night debate in New Hampshire. When is he expected to join that crowd?

CORNISH: Right now, he's not officially announced. He's testing the waters and this actually a legal term with the Federal Election Commission. It means that he's allowed to raise some money, hire some staff, but he can't officially call himself a candidate. That would be against the rules and would push him into candidate status.

So don't expect him to announce anything officially before July 1st, and that's because that's one of the first upcoming deadlines for candidates to report how much money they have raised over the last quarter. Now he can raise money, really improve his stands in the polls. And then in October, when the next deadline is coming up, he's in a better position to show that he's a viable candidate.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Audie Cornish in Richmond. Thank you.

CORNISH: Thank you.

ELLIOTT: The eight Democratic candidates for president debate tonight in New Hampshire.

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