Thompson on Heels of Frontrunners, Adviser Says Ken Khachigian, senior adviser to Fred Thompson's exploratory presidential campaign, says Thompson has caught up with top GOP candidates in fundraising. It helps that Americans have some comfort and familiarity with Thompson, he tells Michele Norris.
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Thompson on Heels of Frontrunners, Adviser Says

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Thompson on Heels of Frontrunners, Adviser Says

Thompson on Heels of Frontrunners, Adviser Says

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

He's raising money. He's got a Web site. He's doing talk radio interviews. But Republican Fred Thompson has not officially announced that he's running for president.

California Attorney Ken Khachigian has signed on as a senior adviser to Thompson. Khachigian is a veteran of nine campaigns. He's one of the many people behind the candidates we're talking with as the races get going. Khachigian says a Thompson announcement is likely to come within weeks, not months, and he's not worried about having to play catch up.

Mr. KEN KHACHIGIAN (Senior Adviser, Fred Thompson's Presidential Exploratory Committee): Well, I would say we've already caught up to a great extent. And just about every poll I've seen, certainly the national polls, are showing Fred either very close to being first or in first. And in a lot of the regional polls, he is either first or second, and if he's third, it's a very close third. So in effect, without having spent really a lot of money or very little at all, it's equivalent of having raised and spent $35 million when you compare it to the other candidates.

NORRIS: Fred Thompson is a former senator from Tennessee, but he's someone that many voters know on national level as - know from his role on "Law & Order." They know him as someone that they've seen on television, occasionally in the movies. How do you turn someone that people know from television or they know from watching films and turn that into someone that they actually want to vote for?

Mr. KHACHIGIAN: I view it, frankly, as an advantage, to begin with, because there is persona that he has from his acting career. It's the same kind of persona Ronald Reagan brought in to the political arena.

NORRIS: Someone else you've also worked for.

Mr. KHACHIGIAN: Exactly. Yes. I worked for him in the '80 and '84 campaigns. And what you do, I think, is take the advantage of having someone who's been in the public eye and entertainment business and use some of those communicating skills and delivery skills that you get in that medium and just take them into the new medium. So I think it's pretty much of an advantage, but I don't think people will be saying Fred recreates some of those movie roles he did over the years or some of the cross-examining skills he may have done on "Law & Order."

NORRIS: Is that enough, though? Will his folksy charm be enough to win over voters at a time when the country is at war?

Mr. KHACHIGIAN: Well, it's never enough. But it certainly helps to have someone with whom there is a comfort level to begin with. But you certainly can't do it on charm alone and in face alone or presence alone. But, boy, that sure helps get jumpstart any campaign.

NORRIS: When Fred Thompson ran for the Senate in Tennessee, he was known for driving around the state in that trademark red pickup truck. And it's been widely reported now that one of the reasons that a campaign aide gave him that truck is that he didn't much like traveling around. He didn't really like to campaign. And so they tried to make it fun for him and they gave him this red truck to travel in.

I wonder what that story tells us about his stomach or his passion for traveling the country to campaign as president. Does he have the fire in the belly for this?

Mr. KHACHIGIAN: You know, that was an important question, frankly, I asked before I signed on. And the answer to that was a resounding yes. He's really very much getting engaged in this campaign. He's very much up for it. He is almost training like an athlete for it. So running in Tennessee is one thing and running nationally is another thing. And I don't think he needed to have us tell him that it requires determination and discipline and energy level that's quite apart from driving around the countryside in a particular state.

NORRIS: Ken Khachigian, thank you so much for talking to us.

Mr. KHACHIGIAN: Okay. You bet. Thank you.

NORRIS: Ken Khachigian is a senior adviser to Fred Thompson's presidential exploratory committee.

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