NPR logo Former Gov. Tommy Thompson (WI)

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson (WI)

Candidacy Status: Declared candidacy on April 4, 2007. Dropped out of the race Aug. 12, 2007.

Tommy Thompson
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Tommy Thompson Biographical Box

Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson has a long record of government service, marked by a willingness to pursue programs that shake up the status quo.

A native of Wisconsin, Thompson was just 25 years old when he was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1966. Twenty years later, he became governor, a post he held for 14 years, until he joined the Bush administration as Health and Human Services secretary.

As governor, Thompson earned a reputation as an aggressive reformer. He created what became a model for changes to state welfare programs around the country, setting up a system requiring welfare recipients to make the transition to work. He also championed school-choice programs, allowing parents to use taxpayer money to send their children to public or private schools.

Thompson's presidential campaign stresses that experience, but he remains little known outside of Wisconsin. Name recognition becomes even more difficult with the emergence of another Thompson, Fred, the TV actor and former Tennessee senator, who is also now in the mix of Republican hopefuls.

With a small staff, little money and minimal outreach to the media, polls consistently show the percentage of potential Republican primary voters who support Tommy Thompson to be in the low single-digits.

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Even with his low profile, Thompson has stirred controversy. During a speech to a Jewish group, he made a comment about making money being "part of the Jewish tradition." He later apologized, saying he simply misspoke, citing fatigue and a bad cold.