Iowa First Stop for Thompson's Presidential Bid
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
All Fred Thompson had to do was mention that he might run for president and he moved up in national polls. Now that he's declared that he's really running, the former senator and actor faces a more specific challenge. He needs to win over voters in the early voting states, including the one where he made his first campaign stop.
NPR's Audie Cornish reports.
AUDIE CORNISH: Fred Thompson is running for president and his campaign definitely isn't shying away from the actor's celebrity in lodging his run.
(Soundbite campaign video biography)
Unidentified Man: It's a job that his character and honesty uniquely prepare him to fulfill. A role only Fred Thompson can play.
MONTAGNE: That's a clip from the video biography that opened his first official campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa. A few hundred people gathered at a downtown convention center and many of those were supporters who had already seen his announcement on television or on his Web site. Joseph Best(ph) of Norwalk, Iowa, wasn't one of them.
Mr. JOSEPH BEST (Resident, Norwalk, Iowa): This is more of an exploratory thing and find out what he stands for, what kind of individual he is.
CORNISH: He was testing the waters. Now, you are testing the waters.
Mr. BEST: Right. You're right. Definitely.
CORNISH: Thompson unveiled several themes: security, unity and prosperity. And in his speech, he tried to back that up by first outlining his stances on national security and the war in Iraq.
Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Republican, Former U.S. Senator): My friends, if we show weakness and division we will pay a heavy price for it in the future. We must show the determination that we are going to be united as an American people and do whatever is necessary to prevail, not only in Iraq but in the worldwide conflict that last beyond the Iraq.
(Soundbite of applause)
CORNISH: Mike Marie(ph) of Grimes, Iowa, says that's a smart move if Thompson wants to woo voters like him who are very focused on terrorism and security. Marie says that while he hasn't made up his mind yet, he appreciates Thompson's approach.
Mr. MIKE MARIE (Resident, Grimes, Iowa): And even though he's very polished, he seems as unpolished as someone can be - like a farmer in Iowa, you know, it's like - that's kind of reminds me, you know - simple. Simple and succinct - to the point.
CORNISH: Throughout the day his staff fended off questions that their candidate might be jumping in the race too late by appointing out new staff members hired in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida. But they looked relieved to see the crowd at the next rally that was a bit larger and far more vocal.
UNKNOWN MEN: (chanting) Go Big Fred. Go Big Fred.
CORNISH: Although he's spending just three days here, Thompson is taking more time out of his announcement tour in Iowa than anywhere else. Voters in this early caucus state have long been courted by candidates such as governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee who won the straw poll here last month.
On the stump, Thompson offers his small government philosophy, dosed with socially conservative topics in an effort to set himself apart and siphon potential voters from his rivals.
Mr. THOMPSON: I believe in right to life. I believe in lower taxes. I believe in less government regulation that stifles growth and creativity.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. THOMPSON: I believe in free markets and free people.
CORNISH: And while Thompson is clearly behind, his late entry may work to his advantage, says Leonard Johnson, an Iowa caucus-goer and Republican from Council Bluffs.
Mr. LEONARD JOHNSON (Republican): I felt as though the campaign started so early I kind of wonder if people aren't a little tired of hearing their candidates, and they may pay more attention to Fred Thompson's positions and such, and see that it doesn't matter if you've been out there for months and months and months, it's what you believe and what you're fighting for that's important.
CORNISH: Fred Thompson will hold several more town-hall style events taking questions and meeting face to face with voters. This weekend he'll go to on to New Hampshire, the scene of this week's GOP debate, which Thompson skipped. His campaign managers say that despite that decision, they hope voters will still be open to hearing his message.
Audie Cornish, NPR News, Sioux City, Iowa.