Thompson Campaigns in New Hampshire

Former Sen. Fred Thompson made his first appearance as a Republican presidential candidate this weekend in the important primary state of New Hampshire. At this stage in the race, many of the state's Republicans have already lined up behind other contenders. Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio reports that many party loyalists who came out to hear Thompson seemed underwhelmed.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Republican Fred Thompson made his first visit to New Hampshire as a presidential candidate this weekend. The actor and former Tennessee senator predicted he will take the Oval Office. But his late-breaking campaign faces some challenges in the state that holds the nation's first primary.

New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers has more.

JOSH ROGERS: Fred Thompson had some things going for him in his first New Hampshire campaign stop. He was appearing at a farm owned by prominent Republican family and stamped off his buzz to a welcome from hardcore GOP activists.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ROGERS: Thompson was quick to tell the crowd some of what they hope to hear.

Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Former Republican Senator, Tennessee; Presidential Candidate): I understand some folks have been looking for me. And I want to tell you, I ain't going to be hard to find from now on. I'm going to be here early and often talking about the things that I think are important in America's future and I think that are important to folks in New Hampshire.

ROGERS: The candidate went on for another 15 minutes. He spoke of low taxes, federalism, enforcing the law and, most starkly, about the threat of terrorism.

Mr. THOMPSON: We face a global enemy that plays by no rules and has no conscience. Iraq is a part of that problem, but it is not the totality of the problem.

ROGERS: Thompson gave no hint of the specific Iraq policy nor did he spell out any proposals to make the nation more secure. He did, however, say the first step is to galvanize the American people. We must express the determination that we in America are united as a people and determined to do the things necessary to prevail not only in Iraq but in the global war that we're a part of.

ROGERS: Thompson's more immediate challenge will be to unite New Hampshire Republicans. His top rivals have been at that for months, with large staffs and networks of volunteers. While polls suggest the bulk of local GOP voters remain undecided, that's less the case among the party stalwart's crucial demounting a successful campaign here. Most of the crowd at his kickoff speech came for a chili feed(ph) put on by a local Republican group. And many had signed along with Thompson's rivals months ago. Even Bill Kayhill(ph), an adviser who'll likely play a key role in Thompson's local effort admits the candidate has his work cut out for him.

Mr. BILL KAYHILL (Adviser, Thompson's campaign): Conventional wisdom is he's in too late. The fact is, we'll see. Well see if he's too late.

ROGERS: Kayhill adds that the campaign will spend the next few days drafting a battle plan and recruiting local operatives. According to the state's Republican Party chairman, Fergus Cullen, Thompson won't be choosing from the cream of the crop.

Mr. FERGUS CULLEN (Chairman, Republican Party): Well, if someone is in the market for hiring instate political talent, I can tell you that everyone worth hiring, and maybe some people who aren't, are on somebody's payroll already.

ROGERS: But others, like self-described Fredhead Steven Smith, who ran a local recruit Thompson Web site, say Thompson's substance and star power have already won him plenty of loyalists. He says their enthusiasm will more than make up for whatever they may lack in pedigree.

Mr. STEVEN SMITH (Thompson supporter): Well, we know about a hundred people that actively will do things for this campaign - just regular people. They're not working on the campaign and getting paid. They'll go out and hang signs, show up at events. They're pretty enthusiastic.

ROGERS: But whether Thompson can inspire, let alone sustain enthusiasm among voters remains the key question. More than a few said the candidate who didn't take questions from the audience left them underwhelmed. Philip Tisdale(ph) is an undecided Republican from Exeter.

Mr. PHILIP TEASDALE (Republican Voter, Exeter, New Hampshire): What did he say? We're going to keep America safe. Well, yeah, that needs to be said. How are you going to do that? Gee, I think we all have core values. Yeah, we do. What's your point? I kept waiting to hear him say, And I'm different, special, the guy because - here's no because.

ROGERS: The final stop on Fred Thompson's weekend trip to New Hampshire is Nashua. He's appearing at city hall alongside the mayor who's already endorsed Arizona senator John McCain.

For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.

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