In Late, Out Early
Republican presidential hopeful, former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., addresses supporters during a post-primary campaign rally at the University of South Carolina Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008, in Columbia, S.C. Thompson ended his bid for the nomination a few days later after a third-place showing in South Carolina, a state he had hoped to win when he entered the race riding a wave of optimism among conservatives.
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The Television Candidacy
Eight months after his eight Republican rivals began campaigning, Fred Thompson told Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show" Sept. 5, 2007 that he was running for president. At the same time, the other Republican candidates were meeting for their fifth debate. "We'll have an opportunity to debate a lot," Thompson said. "... it's a lot more difficult to get on the 'Tonight Show' than it is to get into a presidential debate."
Lawyer, Lobbyist, Politician ...
Born in Alabama on Aug. 19, 1942, and raised in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., 70 miles north of Nashville, Fred Thompson, 65, has been a lawyer, lobbyist, radio commentator, minority counsel for the Senate Watergate hearings, and a senator; he was elected to finish Al Gore's unexpired term in 1994, re-elected in 1996, and in 2002 declined to run for another term.
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But he is best known as an actor. Thompson, who is 6 feet 6 inches tall, has appeared in some two dozen movies since 1985, and in the NBC drama "Law and Order," where for five years after leaving the Senate in 2002 he played gruff district attorney Arthur Branch, here with one of his prosecutors, played by Sam Waterston. In May 2007, he left the role, and a month later formed a presidential exploratory committee.
At the very end of the second Republican presidential debate in which he participated, on Oct. 21, 2007, the questioner asked him about the accusations that he is lazy. Thompson described a life and career that included teenage father, factory worker, federal prosecutor at age 28, Watergate counsel at 30, U.S. senator, "proud father of five," etc. "If a man can do all that and be lazy, I recommend it to everybody."
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In 1973, Republican Sen. Howard Baker, right, chose Thompson, a former assistant U.S. attorney who had been Baker's campaign manager, to be the minority counsel to the Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal. Nixon reportedly declared Thompson "dumb as hell ... but he's friendly." In 1975, Thompson wrote "At That Point In Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee."
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Opposing Corruption, Launching A Film Career
Thompson's star rose higher after he returned to private practice in Tennessee, and successfully represented Marie Ragghianti, head of Tennessee's Board of Pardons and Paroles, against Gov. Ray Blanton, right, whom she accused of firing her for refusing in effect to sell pardons. The case was made into a book, and a 1985 movie, in which Thompson played himself, launching his acting career.
In The Senate
New Sen. Fred Thompson attended a 1995 press conference with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. Some reports of Thompson's Senate career say he was thoughtful, charismatic and deliberative, battling abuses in campaign finance and government waste. Others say he was ambivalent about the job and accomplished little. George Will called him "less than a martyr to the work ethic."
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A loyal Republican, he occasionally showed an independent streak, joining just 10 other Republican senators, for example, who voted not to remove President Clinton from office on a perjury charge. Thompson also supported John McCain over the more establishment Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, in 2000. Here, Thompson was helping his candidate in an unsuccessful attempt to win the South Carolina primary.
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Though he was one of the members of Congress to appear with President Bush as he signed the bill to create the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, Thompson reportedly expressed concern over several of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, including "roving wiretaps" and the suspension of due-process rights in holding terrorism suspects.
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Activist For A Justice
Thompson appeared on "Meet the Press" in 2005 to help shepherd the nomination of John Roberts as Supreme Court chief justice. On his campaign Web site, Thompson writes: "Activist judges across the country seem intent on legislating from the bench to promote a culture of abortion, redefine marriage, and undermine families -- in effect re-shaping the values of our entire society without the consent of the people."
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Thompson married his second wife, Jeri Kehn, 24 years his junior, on June 29, 2002. They have a daughter, Hayden, and a son, Samuel. A former media consultant and Republican lobbyist, Jeri Thompson has been reported to be heavily involved in his campaign, but she says, "I have a 1-year-old ... I also have a 4-year-old. That's my main role ... Other than that, I do what I can to help. But I'm not even qualified enough ..."
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Declared ... Conservative
Once in the race, Thompson, seen here in front of his campaign bus in Miami, painted himself as the true conservative in the race: "I was conservative as soon as I put down 'Conscience of a Conservative' (by Barry Goldwater) when I was in the college," he said in the Oct. 21 debate. "In eight years in the United States Senate, I fought for tax cuts, a balanced budget, and welfare reform, all of which we achieved ..."
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Iraq Policy Supporter
In the first debate in which Thompson participated, on Oct. 9, 2007, which was primarily about the economy, Thompson said he supported the current policy in Iraq. "... we didn't go in with enough troops and we didn't know what to expect when we got there. But now we're showing signs of progress." Mitt Romney ribbed him for being a late-comer to the race.
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Thompson arrived with wife and daughter at the Family Research Council, an organization of the Christian right whose motto is "defending family, faith and freedom." Thompson opposes abortion rights, and has said, "I compiled a 100 percent pro-life voting record" in the Senate. He is also against same-sex marriage.
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His positions are reportedly more nuanced than some conservatives would prefer. He is opposed, for example, to a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, believing this should be left to each state. As a lobbyist, he worked on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
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Gun Control Opponent
Thompson addressed the National Rifle Association's meeting entitled A Celebration of American Values. The candidate has said he opposes gun control, arguing it is ineffective in curbing violence. "I strongly support the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms."
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Not So Weighty
Not all of a candidate's time, of course, is taken up weighing in on weighty matters. Even before his formal declaration, Thompson visited Iowa, attending the Iowa State Fair in August. Much was made of his wearing expensive Gucci shoes.
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Campaigning in Iowa and Florida.
The first trip of Thompson's campaign bus after his announcement was through the countryside of Iowa, the state whose caucuses (scheduled for Jan. 3, 2008) are the first step in the nominating processes for both major political parties.
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