Ex-Sen. Fred Thompson (TN) Even before he formally entered the race, Thompson was already among the GOP front-runners in national polls. The former star of TV's Law and Order and former Tennessee senator likes to bill himself as a Washington outsider — despite his background as a lobbyist.

Ex-Sen. Fred Thompson (TN)

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson Getty Images hide caption

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At a Glance: Fred Thompson

First Campaign

Read about Fred Thompson's first campaign.

For someone who is one of the last to jump into the presidential race, former Sen. Fred Thompson has stood out for his ability to command attention in national polls. Some surveys show the Tennessee Republican in second or third place — despite the months of campaigning by the other GOP hopefuls.

Thompson's focus right now is raising enough money to show he can mount a viable campaign for the nomination. He has been constantly badgered by press reports that he is running a lethargic campaign. And while his appearance in the debates was widely anticipated, he has not stood out at all.

But from the beginning, he has operated on a different stage. Thompson has acted in more than 30 films, including The Hunt for Red October, and he is well-known for playing the character Arthur Branch on the highly rated Law and Order television program. Thompson has played up his on-camera charisma by waging much of his early campaign on the Web through blogs, podcasts and video.

Thompson was first elected to the Senate in 1994, winning the seat vacated by Vice President Al Gore. He ran as a Washington outsider, a common-sense economic conservative, traveling the state in a red pickup and wearing a flannel shirt — all the while underplaying his background as a Washington lobbyist. He won a second term with more than 60 percent of the vote in 1996.

Thompson quickly vaulted to chair the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, where he later led the investigations into allegations of improper fundraising by the Clinton-Gore campaign. His interest in overhauling the campaign-finance system continued with his support of the McCain-Feingold Senate bill, which introduced bans on soft money to national parties.

While Thompson may have strayed from the party line on that issue, he is generally regarded as a mainstream conservative. Thompson says he's pro-life, calling the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision "bad law and bad medical science." He often touts the fact that he was tapped by President Bush to usher John Roberts, now the U.S. chief justice, through the Supreme Court nomination process. Thompson also says that he is against embryonic stem-cell research, and he has a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life.

Thompson has described the stalled immigration legislation backed by Sen. John McCain as a "legislative pig," and he is against proposals that grant what he says would be amnesty to illegal immigrants. He speaks of immigration issues in terms of national security, demanding secure borders. On foreign policy, he supports the president's decision to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Thompson, 64, is the father of a 3-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son with his second wife, Jeri Kehn. He has a son from a previous marriage. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth Thompson, died in 2002; her death is widely believed to have contributed to his decision not to seek another Senate term that year.