Rivals Take Aim At Thompson

By The Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel.

Fred Thompson has had a relatively easy ride as he has flirted with a bid for the Republican presidential nomination. His strategists have found traction promoting him as the heir to Ronald Reagan — and a conservative alternative to the top tier of the GOP field.

But the ride is starting to get a bit bumpy.

Opponents and their researchers have begun working — mostly behind the scenes — to highlight perceived soft spots in his conservative bona fides.

And Thompson will have to neutralize questions on the campaign trail and in the media about his centrist votes in the Senate, his stances on litmus test conservative issues including abortion and — perhaps most significantly — his work as a lawyer and lobbyist.

Thompson's biggest challenge will likely be cementing his image as a conservative country lawyer fixin' to shake up Washington — before his opponents brand him as an influence peddler and trial lawyer.

Here are the roles into which opponents will likely try to cast Thompson and the ways in which he may seek to inoculate himself:

Tricky Clientele

• Lobbyist: Thompson made nearly $1.3 million over about two decades of lobbying both before and after his eight-year Senate stint, according to government documents and media accounts from his successful run for the Senate in 1994.

Though Thompson won in a landslide, that was in a watershed Republican year and before the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal helped Democrats effectively wield the culture-of-corruption theme against Republicans.