Friday, September 07, 2007

Fred Thompson stumbles on to election stage By Toby Harnden in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Fred Thompson stumbles on to election stage By Toby Harnden in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Last Updated: 1:11am BST 08/09/2007

When Fred Thompson stepped off his "Fredmobile" bus at twilight to cries of "Go Fred Go" he would have hoped that the 300 Iowans greeting him would become part of an army that would sweep him to the Republican nomination.
But even before he began to speak, things started to go a little awry.

Fred Thompson campaigns in Des Moines, Iowa
The local politician who introduced him in the town of Council Bluffs fumbled nervously with his notes and told bemused onlookers that the candidate - "Senator Fred Roberts of Tennessee" - first ran for Congress in 1944.

Mr Thompson, who in fact arrived on Capitol Hill in 1994, had no role in the movie Bob Roberts, about a corrupt Right-winger running for president.
But he is familiar across America for his parts in Hunt for Red October, Die Hard 2 and the hit television series Law & Order.

Many Republicans believe that their front runner Rudy Giuliani is too liberal to win the party nomination while Mitt Romney, leading in the key first-voting state of Iowa, is struggling to persuade voters that his recently acquired conservative positions are genuine.

They yearn for a new Ronald Reagan, another B-list actor who was dismissed as a lightweight but who went on to help end the Cold War and become a conservative icon.
The comparison is not lost on Mr Thompson, who emphasises that he met Mr Reagan "one year out of law school, which changed my life in some respects".
But the Tennessean has entered the 2008 White House race almost a year after his chief rivals, lags behind in fundraising, has already fired several key advisers and faces expectations of being a Republican saviour that a master politician would struggle to fulfil.
Despite his varied roles as an admiral, CIA director, prosecutor and, currently, President Ulysses S Grant in I Buried My Heart at Wounded Knee, Mr Thompson has pretty much always played himself.

At the core of every character is a laid back Southern gentleman whose folksy wisdom means he seldom needs to break into a sweat.
His first acting opportunity came in 1985 after his courtroom support for a fired female official helped expose a corruption scandal.
He told those gathered at Council Bluffs: "They came to town and said 'We're going to make a movie about your case and this lady and we'd like to talk to you about playing yourself'. Well, I thought, they can't tell me I'm doing it wrong."
Mr Thompson's message, he told the crowd against the backdrop of his bus - emblazoned with the words "united by our core beliefs" - is that his humble roots gave him lifelong "common sense conservative views" and the conviction that "our basic rights come from God not from government".

With Mr Giuliani viewed by many as a hard-edged New Yorker with east coast views and Mr Romney often portrayed as an elitist millionaire from the arch-liberal state of Massachusetts, Mr Thompson has a persona that could gather much support in Middle America.
Although his words seek to convey the Reaganesque optimism that Americans love, his style on the stump is curiously low-key, occasionally bordering on the lugubrious.
He speaks off the cuff, often rambles and seldom builds to a rhetorical climax.
One Thompson adviser conceded that his campaign launch address was "a 40-minute speech with about 15 minutes of killer material in it".

Although with the television camera up close Mr Thompson has striking charisma, he lacks a stage presence.
Flanked by his glamorous wife Jeri, 40, and daughter Hayden, three, and son Sammy, 10 months, and a lot slimmer since he began a regimen of three sessions a week with a personal trainer, he looks his 65 years.
"I'd like to see him president but I think he'll appeal to the older people, the conservatives rather than to the young people," said Les McKim, 71, a retired hospital worker.
"He's not as exciting as I hoped he would be. I expected he'd be a little more of a magnetic personality."

But others believe his down-home charm is his biggest asset if he is chosen to face the person most Republicans believe will be the Democratic nominee.
"He talks so plain and understandable," said Diane Taylor, 65, a retired beautician.
"In the debates, I can't wait to hear his wonderful deep voice up against Hillary Clinton's screeching."
His campaign manager Bill Lacy insisted that there was "a huge undecided vote out there" that Mr Thompson could win over.
"Our bottom line is that this race is wide open."