Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson says he recognizes that the economy is headed in the wrong direction, with unemployment up to 5 percent nationwide and the consumer credit market tightening.
"It's reason to be concerned. I think that we have to be prepared to act," Thompson says in an NPR interview.
If he became president, he tells Robert Siegel, his plans for stimulating the economy could include adding $500 to the child tax credit, or giving a tax rebate to put money in people's pockets and encourage spending.
But Thompson says he's wary of outlining a specific stimulus package, telling NPR that too often, such a package "becomes like a Christmas tree. It becomes more of a pork barrel operation than something that affects the economy."
An economic stimulus package, Thompson says, must be planned in conjunction with economic advisers and must be mindful of the consequences of long-term inflation.
"The economists that I talk to are divided on the subject. For example, in the housing market, it would create a bigger bubble in the future," he says. "If these things were black-and-white issues, we would not be having these discussions."
Campaign Style: Walking vs. Running
Republicans are holding their first Southern primary Saturday in South Carolina, a state that has foretold the GOP nomination since 1980. Thompson has staked his presidential candidacy on the state.
When asked about criticism from South Carolina voters that the pace of his campaign is too slow, Thompson defends his campaign style.
"We're doing our thing, doing it the way we have always done it, which allowed me to win two races in Tennessee by 20 percent margins," he says
From Law & Order to Presidential Candidate
Many voters know Thompson from his role as New York's district attorney on television's long-running drama Law & Order. Thompson left the show last year to focus on his presidential bid.
"I've been sorely disappointed that they've been able to struggle on with that show without me," Thompson said, before laughing.
NPR asked Thompson if he thought Jack McCoy — the Law & Order character (played by actor Sam Waterston) who took over as the fictional district attorney — would ever run for president.
"It's a lot easier to run in television than it is in real life, but the rewards are greater in real life, too," Thompson says.
South Carolina presidential primaries are conducted and paid for by the state's two political parties, not by the state government, so they can choose to hold the contests on different days.
Although South Carolina is home to many Christian conservatives, the leader of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University has endorsed the race's only Mormon candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Beaufort and Charleston, S.C., have recently seen an influx of Northeasterners. These transplants tend to be less conservative than native Republicans. While they have yet to influence a presidential race, they could become a political force in the future.
South Carolina is seen as a crucial early voting state: Its primary has consistently foretold the Republican nomination since 1980 and often sets the tone for voting in other Southern states.
Here is a guide to what's at stake for the candidates in South Carolina's GOP primary on Jan. 19, and the issues that will be on voters' minds.
Candidates: Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; California Rep. Duncan Hunter; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson
What's at Stake: The GOP field is wide open now that the party's three significant contests have been won by three different candidates.
Huckabee has been courting the state's large number of religious conservatives. (Roughly 40 percent of South Carolinians consider themselves evangelicals). McCain, the New Hampshire primary winner, is popular with the state's military veterans. Romney, fresh off his victory in Michigan, is running ads in the state. Thompson is hoping to play off his conservative platform and Southern roots.
Meanwhile, Giuliani is focusing instead on Florida. He has staked his candidacy on winning the state's Jan. 29 primary, then riding the momentum through the key Super Tuesday states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, where he is well-known.
Issues: Illegal immigration is a top concern for voters here, followed closely by Iraq and terrorism. The economy is also a major concern. The Northwest corridor of the state is home to some of the country's most successful high-tech manufacturers, including automaker BMW and several German companies, but other parts of South Carolina have been hemorrhaging textile factory jobs for years.