Conservative Republicans Starving for a Thompson Run

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Everywhere Fred Thompson goes these days, he seems to be followed by inflated expectations.

Those waiting outside the Capitol Hill Club yesterday for the not-quite-yet presidential candidate to arrive counted 35 House Republicans entering the building to meet with him. One participant, Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.), reported that there were 40 in the room. Another, Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.), upped the figure to "45 to 50." Then the organizer, Rep. Zach Wamp (Tenn.) came out. "I think the number was 53," he said. "Between 50 and 60."

However hyped their numbers, the conservative lawmakers who came to hear the actor cum senator cum actor were of one voice when they spoke of Thompson as a possible white knight. To hear them tell it, the current crop of Republican presidential candidates has left them variably famished, parched and suffocating.

"People are hungry for leadership," said Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.).

"People are thirsting for a candidate that checks all the boxes," Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) reported after meeting Thompson.

"It was a breath of fresh air in the room today," added Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.).

So is Thompson running?

"He will if people let him know they're hungry enough," answered a positively ravenous Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.).

It doesn't take an Arthur Branch -- that's the district attorney Thompson plays on "Law & Order," for pop-culture illiterates -- to discern that the hunger pangs say less about Thompson than about demoralized conservatives and their distaste for the others in the Republican presidential field.

"Clearly, Republicans are not convinced by any candidate yet," McHenry confided. "You have 45 to 50 members of Congress that show up for someone who's not even in the race. I think that's a significant statement about the field."

Jones was even more blunt. "I'm looking for somebody who can excite America after seven failed years of George Bush," he said. And Wamp said plainly that "people are looking for an alternative and they're looking for more stature."

It's been a difficult few weeks for the GOP field. Mitt Romney misfired by describing himself as a "lifelong hunter" when, in fact, he never had a license and only occasionally took shots at "varmints." John McCain has self-destructed over his championing of the Iraq war. Rudy Giuliani has had more Bernard Kerik problems. And Tommy Thompson, a new entrant, quickly disqualified himself by telling a Jewish group this week that making money is "part of the Jewish tradition."

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