Election 2008

Thompson, Potential GOP Force, in New Meetings

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Actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson holds a closed-door lunch with 50 to 60 members of Congress, many of whom have spoken favorably about a Thompson presidential campaign. Though Thompson has yet to announce his plans, he is doing better in the polls than many official candidates.


For a non-candidate with little money, a skeletal staff and, frankly, no campaign, Fred Thompson is doing pretty well. The former Tennessee senator and current TV actor says he is giving some thought to running for the Republican nomination for president, and he's already getting double digits in the polls, trailing only Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

Thompson brought his non-campaign to Capitol Hill for a closed-door meet-and-greet with Republican lawmakers. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Fred Thompson was ready for a wild time when he showed up at the Republican's Capital Hill Club today.

(Soundbite of film, "The Hunt for Red October")

Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Former Republican Senator, Tennessee; Actor): (As Rear Admiral Joshua Painter): This business will get out of control. It will get out of control, and we'll be lucky to live through it.

SEABROOK: Okay, okay, I was cheating. That was Fred Thompson, but it was Fred Thompson playing the role of an admiral in "The Hunt for Red October." In real life, Thompson is much more laid back. He even speaks off the cuff, something no candidate is ever supposed to do. Here's how he described his meeting with congressional Republicans today to the crowd of press waiting outside.

Mr. THOMPSON: (unintelligible) to see some of my old friends and make some new friends and tell them what was on my mind and listen to see what was on their minds, and we had a good talk. I enjoyed it, and we'll be seeing some more of each other, I'm sure. Thank you.

SEABROOK: Inside, the meeting went fabulously, according to the many Republicans who attended. Tennessee Congressman Zach Wamp is a close ally of Thompson and is pushing him to run.

Representative ZACH WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): He was called presidential, and he was. He was told that he is electable, and he is.

SEABROOK: One Republican even called Thompson Reaganesque. But why enter the race now, you might ask?

Mr. DAVID KEENE (Chairman, American Conservative Union): There's a great deal of dissatisfaction out there with the current choices.

SEABROOK: That's David Keene, the head of the American Conservative Union.

Mr. KEENE: And therefore, the emergence of another choice at this time or a prospective emergence is something that interests an awful lot of Republican voters.

SEABROOK: Of all the candidates for the Republican nomination right now, no one has really revved up the conservative base of the party. Keene says the security hawks want Rudy Giuliani, but he's too liberal on social issues for other Republicans. Some in the party love John McCain, but others don't trust him after his attempted hostile takeover of the GOP in 2000. Mitt Romney is nice, says Keene, but nice doesn't really get your heart pumping, and some distrust his switch on issues like abortion and stem cell research.

So, many Republicans are looking out at their field of candidates and saying, eh. Enter Fred Thompson.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Law and Order")

Mr. THOMPSON: (As D.A. Arthur Branch) You can curse the politicians all you want, but the fact is that the country has managed to choose up sides all by itself.

SEABROOK: Okay, this time it's Fred Thompson on "Law and Order," where he plays the gruff district attorney. It's interesting. Thompson must emit some aura of government power, because he always gets cast as a heavy official certain of his duty. That image could help him if he decides to run, which is still up in the air, though some political operatives and TV pundits swear he'll be the next Ronald Reagan, and not just because of his acting skills. What does Thompson say to that?

(Soundbite of TV show, "Law and Order")

Mr. THOMPSON: (As Branch) It's not politics. That's chickens chattering in the churchyard.

SEABROOK: Okay, that was Thompson on "Law and Order" again. But the next time you see him on TV, he may just be playing himself and asking for your vote. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, The Capitol.

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