Thompson Meets With House GOP; Does Not Say if He's a Candidate

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) met yesterday with more than 50 Republican House members on Capitol Hill, fielding questions about his views on issues such as abortion and immigration and even his relationship with his first wife, but offering no new insight into whether he would join the field of Republican presidential candidates.

Many of the members said they left the meeting impressed with the "Law and Order" star and are eager to see him run, believing he would capture the excitement of some Republicans who are not content with the current field of candidates.

"I don't really have a lot to say," Thompson told a group of reporters assembled outside the meeting. "I wanted to come over and see some of my old friends and make some new friends, and tell them what was on my mind."

He then ignored dozens of shouted questions from reporters as he entered the back of an SUV and was whisked away by aides.

But the Republicans he visited were eager to rave about Thompson after the session. Several said they will support Thompson the moment he enters the campaign if he decides to run. "He's ready, and I want him to run," said Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.).

Some described his presence as commanding, likening Thompson to another actor-turned politician, Ronald Reagan. "He was called presidential, and he was. He was told he was electable, and he is," said Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), who organized the session and has repeatedly urged Thompson to run.

Thompson, according to the members who were present, did not offer many details about what issues would define his campaign or how he would run. The actor, who served in the Senate from 1994 to 2003, emphasized he is opposed to abortion in most circumstances and would not allow "amnesty" as part of any changes to U.S. immigration laws, although he did not specifically define that term. One lawmaker asked a question that made reference to Thompson's divorce from his first wife in 1985, and he responded that he had talked to his ex-wife only the day before, Wamp said.

The strong attendance at the meeting helped underscore how Thompson could potentially transform the GOP race. Only 65 percent of Republicans questioned in a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week said they were satisfied with their candidates, compared with 80 percent of Democrats. That sentiment is reflected on Capitol Hill, where scores of lawmakers have not yet endorsed a candidate.

While Thompson remains noncommittal, the House members' display of enthusiasm was the latest step in an effort to draft him into the race.

In addition to the lawmakers and some bloggers, former Senate majority leaders Howard Baker and Bill Frist, both from Tennessee, have touted Thompson and have urged him to run.

Last week, Thompson disclosed that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer, nearly three years ago but that the cancer is in remission. Some political strategists say he made the announcement in part because he intends to be a candidate.

Several of the Republicans said Thompson's lack of an intense, lifelong desire to win the presidency is a commendable quality. "He hasn't been out looking for the job and that makes him attractive," said Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.).

Even with all this enthusiasm, many uncommitted lawmakers declined to attend the session, and one doubted if Thompson would enter or if he is the best candidate. "Not getting in early raises questions about his passion," said Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.). "The question is, does he have the drive and determination?"

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