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For Iowans, Thompson Has 'Reagan-like Appeal'

Nevada, Iowa--As he toured an ethanol plant in Iowa, adding a green hard hat to his ensemble of blue shirt, khakis and blazer, the former Tennessee Senator wasn't like most candidates in these kinds of photo-ops. As a plant manager showed him the control room and other parts of Lincolnway Energy in Nevada, Iowa Fred Thompson wasn't asking detailed questions or looking particularly closely at the computers or other equipment at the plant. Arms folded across his chest, he smiled and nodded as the manager told him about ethanol production, with a longer nod if it seemed an important point was being made. When the manager saw a couple of employees sitting down, the candidate waved at them, nodded and then finally walked the few feet to shake their hands and introduce himself.

Thompson is quite an unusual politician. His acting background would suggest a special kind of charisma or skill at public speaking, but now on his second swing through Iowa, he didn't whip up the excitement of a crowd or sound particularly eloquent or inspiring as Barack Obama or John Edwards often do. Instead of being eager to shake hands and meet voters when he finishes his speeches, he ambles toward them, speaks in a deep, but muted tone and poses for pictures or answers questions, often without making eye contact.

And while Thompson is the candidate who has been out of the government the longest except for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, he's able to drift into Washington-speak pretty easily, employing terms like "mandatory spending" in talking about Social Security. At the same time, he can be almost comically vague at times, such as when asked in Fort Dodge about what he would do to about illegal immigration, he declared it was important to "first of all recognize it's a problem," even though illegal immigration is perhaps the most acknowledged problem in America, particularly among Republicans.

At the same time, at 6'5" he towers over nearly everyone around him, which along with his voice makes him seem like a person who should be in charge. And he's the candidate who makes his often rather bland statements sounds profound. Elections tend to be more about character than policy plans, and Thompson's remarks tend to reinforce his claim that's he's a "commonsense conservative." No matter, the question, he always comes back to principles, mainly these: America good, big-government bad. "I've got a real creative approach, let's continue doing what works and quit doing what doesn't work in this country," he said to applause at every stop. "Cutting taxes works," he added.

In interviews, several Iowa residents said that Thompson had Ronald Reagan-like appeal, but also noted they wanted to hear more details from him on his stance on issues. Aides said they're hearing this from voters and they press and will address this concern. At the same time, Thompson, in some ways like Obama on the Democratic side, isn't running as an innovator on policy, as his stances on most key issues resemble that of his GOP rivals. He's instead arguing he will make a better leader and along with security and prosperity "unity" is one of his key principles he notes in every speech.

--Perry Bacon Jr.

By Washington Post editors  |  October 3, 2007; 7:17 PM ET
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On the "Law and Order" TV show Thompson plays the tough, man-of-few-(but wise)- words good-ole-boy. Now he is trying to parlay that image into the presidency. But without the tight scripting of a TV show it doesn't seem to be working. His words of wisdom seem less than profound and he recently had to ask an audience for applause after his speech. And without the TV lighting and makeup he seems old and tired (sorry, but if you live by image...). Perhaps we have grown wary of image candidates and this time might want to consider that competency thing.

Posted by: rmbus54 | October 5, 2007 5:09 AM | Report abuse

"Reagan-like appeal" ?

From day one, I knew that Ronnie was a cipher in the fullest-sense, and those Iowans are drinking the Kool-Aid again.

Yuh canna make a silk-purse outa' a sow's ear, they liked to say in the olde days.

Posted by: Hub2 | October 4, 2007 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Comically vague is an understatement. Thompson is an empty suit. He looks bored with campaigning & can't be bothered with details. Maybe he's worn out from prior treatments for lymphoma. Or maybe he thinks he'll act his way into the White House.His lack of conviction and accuracy on answers underscores how ineffective a president he would make.I want someone for POTUS who smart, committed, and energetic. None describes Thompson.

Posted by: jcgrim | October 4, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: rosstern | October 4, 2007 12:27 PM | Report abuse

"Thompson's remarks tend to reinforce his claim that's he's a "commonsense conservative."

That's a remarkably opinionated statement, Mr. Bacon. I don't think he makes much sense at all but, hey, that's my opinion. Careful, one might think you are an admirer of Mr Thompson's.

Posted by: zukermand | October 4, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Very well said FKPAXSON!! You wrote what I have been saying in my circles. GO FRED!

Posted by: owen | October 4, 2007 12:02 PM | Report abuse

There is some concern Thompson may have a bit of a problem with the religious right...certainly nothing like Giuliani faces, but some at any rate.

I think perhaps that one simple graphic may show exactly why the religious right will ultimately back Thompson in the general election.


Posted by: didereaux | October 4, 2007 4:30 AM | Report abuse

Senator Fred Thompson is the only major candidate that gets it. He makes decisions based on principles. Principles don't change. You have to stand for something and not change who you are based on the polls. That is what Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have done and all of the Democrats do it. Give me a leader that will stand by his principles anyday versus someone that stands for everything.

I know many, many Republicans that will stay home if Rudy Giuliani is the candidate. He does not represent our values as Conservatives, and never will. Millionaire Willared "Mitt" Romney is a Republican-In-Name-Only RINO (though I'm sure a very nice man) that simply has everything else and nothing to do. "I guess I'll just try to buy the presidency". Conservatives will simply stay home and the Democrats will pick up additional seats in the House and probably get the 60 seats in the Senate they need to completely destroy our Country. Nice picture huh?

However, I think Fred can bring America back together, if that's even possible. America needs a rebirth of patriotism and honor. Republicans also need a rebirth. President Reagan was our last rebirth and he can never be duplicated. Fred Thompson will bring his own down-to-earth common sense to this Country and strength back to our party. A little of the good old days of faith and family would do well for this Country. If a Conservative runs as a Conservative, he will win!

Think of it this way: Eight years of another Clinton White House? Now if that is not a sufficient enough reason to pull together as a party, as a Country, and fight this socialist liberal takeover of our government, what is? It is not impossible to take back the House and the Senate. We are winning in Iraq--they know it. The best they can do now is stop our progress and choose defeat, just like they did during Vietnam. We lost because Congress chose defeat. History repeats itself when not learned from.

Folks, we are in for the fight of our lives, just as our young men and women are fighting for our freedoms in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must fight for our Country right here and now! I truly believe Fred Thompson is the one man who can pull this party and nation back together! Rudy Giuliani will just tear us apart as a party. Liberal is liberal every day of the week.

Really tick off the leftist democrats and contribute to Fred Thompson:

Posted by: fkpaxson | October 4, 2007 2:45 AM | Report abuse

For his definite "Reagan-Like appeal," and just his appeal in general, I'm supporting Ron Paul for President. Ron Paul is a true conservative, and does not need to be vague in regards to the issues. He knows what he stands for and what this country needs.

I understand this article is about Thompson, but I heard a radio interview with an Iowan couple who said they are endorsing Thompson, though they don't fully agree with him, because they haven't seen any better candidates, mentioning Guiliani, Romney, and McCain.

It's my belief that every voter should be well informed before going to the polls, and it's my hope that this comment will encourage people to at least take a look at Ron Paul and his stance on the issues, before writing him off for one of the "top-tier" candidates.

The fact that Ron Paul raised over $5 million in the 3rd quarter, more than twice what he raised in the previous quarter, is proof that his support continues to grow.

It is unfortunate that the media continues to downplay Ron Paul's significance in the 2008 presidential race, as he is not only what our country needs, but he is also what our country is looking for.

Posted by: travis.troyer | October 3, 2007 9:14 PM | Report abuse

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