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March 23, 2007

Democrats fear Fred Thompson … and should

Beyond the field of announced GOP candidates with questionable conservative pedigrees, there is a potential suitor on the horizon who could close the wide breach between Republicans and conservatives. Fred Thompson, the former Republican Senator from Tennessee, is perhaps America’s brightest and most capable prospect for President in 2008.

Most folks probably recognize Thompson as District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s “Law & Order,” or maybe from one of his big-screen roles like “Hunt for Red October,” but I have had the privilege of knowing him for 20 years as just Fred.

Last week, when Sen. Thompson was queried about a possible presidential bid, he replied, “I’m giving some thought to it,” saying he would make a decision in coming months. “It’s not really a reflection on the current field at all. I’m just going to wait and see what happens.”

Notwithstanding his tip of the hat to the current field of GOP contenders, Thompson made it clear that he would be watching them: “I wanted to see how my colleagues who are on the campaign trail do now – what they say, what they emphasize … and whether or not they can carry the ball next November.”

In other words, like most conservatives, Fred is concerned about the electability of the current field of Republicans – and for that reason, we want him in the lineup.

The GOP frontrunners – Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney – each have their own peculiar weaknesses. Common to them all, however, is their lack of bona fides among conservative voters – the Republican base. Without the conservative vote, it is highly questionable whether any one of the current frontrunners could pull off a convincing primary victory.

Democrats clearly understand their Republican opponents’ limitations, which is why they are confident that one of their far-left-of-center frontrunners, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, will win the presidency in ‘08.

While there are conservative candidates for the GOP nomination, any of whom could deservedly win the Republican primary, none of whom would be likely to carry a majority in the general election. This list includes some true luminaries of the conservative movement: Sen. Sam Brownback, Gov. Jim Gilmore, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Tom Tancredo, Gov. Tommy Thompson and possibly former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

However, if conservatives and the rest of the Republican electorate want to line up behind the most capable, qualified and electable candidate in the '08 presidential race, a man who can carry the Reagan mantle and draw an enormous crossover vote (as President Reagan did in 1980 and 1984 see 1984 election map), then call out Fred Thompson.

After earning his J.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1967, Thompson had a private law practice and later served as an assistant U.S. attorney – making his mark weeding out corruption. After his prominent role as Republican counsel during Watergate, it was Thompson’s 1977 investigation that toppled the crooked administration of Tennessee Democrat Gov. Ray Blanton. In 1980, Thompson was tapped to serve as special counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in 1982, special counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In 1985, the Blanton scandal was the subject of the film “Marie,” in which Thompson played himself – because the director could not find an actor who could capture Thompson’s power and determination. His success in that film led to his roles in more than 20 other big-screen hits including “No Way Out,” “Class Action,” “Cape Fear” and “In the Line of Fire.”

In 1993, Tennessee’s Republican leadership convinced Thompson to return to public service in a campaign bid to fill the unexpired Senate term of then Vice President Albert Gore. Fred then demonstrated his formidable skills on the campaign trail. Despite all the support Bill Clinton and Al Gore could muster for popular six-term Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper, Thompson won a landslide victory in 1994, garnering 61 percent of the vote to Cooper’s 39 percent – the largest victory margin in any statewide political contest in Tennessee history.

Thompson’s success in his first campaign for national office did not pass without substantial note from the Democrat National Committee. He won by an even wider margin in his 1996 re-election bid. Rest assured, the DNC fears a Thompson draft for the presidency.

Thompson’s record as a U.S. Senator from 1994 to 2003 shows that he was on the right side of every critical issue. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs from 1997 to 2001, he voted for national-debt reduction, the all-important balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, a presidential line-item veto to eliminate congressional pork and efforts to privatize elements of Social Security. He supported legislation in the interest of free enterprise and opposed many regulatory and tax measures. He opposed growth in social-welfare programs, including expansions in Medicare and welfare for immigrants. He supported efforts to decentralize or disenfranchise unconstitutional government programs.

Fred voted for limits on death penalty appeals, product-liability punitive-damage awards and class-action lawsuits. He opposed decreasing restrictions on wiretaps. He supported increased oil exploration, including ANWR drilling permits, and is an advocate of free trade, understanding well the underlying national security implications. He supported an amendment to prohibit flag burning and voted for numerous measures in support of Second Amendment rights. (Charlton Heston campaigned for him in '94.)

On family and social issues, he opposed “marriage” between homosexuals, partial-birth abortion, cloning, the addition of “sexual orientation” to hate-crimes legislation and legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. He voted for many education-reform measures, including the provision of school vouchers.

Most important, Thompson’s support for Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom was, and remains, steadfast. Thompson has the authoritative grasp of national-security issues necessary for a commander in chief, particularly with respect to the long-term jihadi threat.

Lamar Alexander filled Thompson’s seat in 2003 when Fred withdrew his re-election bid following the tragic death of his daughter. Today, Fred is married to Jeri Kehn, and they have a daughter. He also has two grown children from a previous marriage and five grandchildren.

Currently a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, Fred’s conservative credentials are unassailable.

Former Senate Majority Leader and Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker, who appointed Thompson as Republican counsel to the Watergate Committee 35 years ago, is unabashed in his support for Thompson in '08: “I keep sending up trial balloons telling people they should get him to run. So far no one is shooting them down – including Fred.”

My friend Zach Wamp, a conservative member of Tennessee’s congressional delegation, spoke with Fred last week and has reached a similar conclusion about his candidacy: “There is a real, real strong possibility that he will run.” Zach and more than 40 other members of Congress have scheduled a meeting with Thompson on 18 April, and they will encourage him to run.

Observing the current political climate, Fred notes, “I think people are somewhat disillusioned. I think a lot of people are cynical out there. I think they’re looking for something different…”

“Something different”? How about a plain-speaking and plain-dealing American – a charismatic leader right out of the Reagan mold, whose character, integrity and experience are head and shoulders above the rest of the field?

Fred Thompson is the right man at the right time.

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