By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
RICHMOND, April 23 -- Former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, a possible presidential contender and an actor who plays a tough guy on television, will headline a major fundraiser for the Virginia Republican Party, GOP officials announced Monday.
Thompson, who many Republicans believe could be a leading contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination if he runs, will speak at a party gala June 2 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
Shaun Kenney, spokesman for the Virginia Republican Party, said Thompson's visit is intended to invigorate the party faithful as they prepare for the fall election. The seats of all 140 Virginia state senators and delegates are up for election Nov. 6.
"We want to make sure we maintain our majorities and build upon them," Kenney said.
Scheduling Thompson for the $100-a-plate dinner also underscores Republicans' determination not to be upstaged by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and his Democratic allies.
Two months ago, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) headlined the Virginia Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner shortly after he announced his candidacy for president. Obama drew 3,500 people to the event, which sponsors said was the largest dinner of its kind in Richmond history.
Before the dinner, Kaine endorsed Obama.
By luring Thompson, Virginia GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie continues to demonstrate that his status as a former chairman of the Republican National Committee is an asset to the state party. The state party in recent years has been troubled by internal division and poor fundraising.
Gillespie has been bringing some of the Republican Party's biggest names to Virginia to help the party raise money and generate excitement.
Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and White House press secretary Tony Snow have appeared or are scheduled to appear at party fundraisers.
But Virginia Republicans said Thompson might prove to be the party's biggest draw in years.
Before he was elected to the Senate in 1994, Thompson appeared in movies such as "The Hunt for Red October" and "In the Line of Fire." After retiring from the Senate in 2002, Thompson began appearing on NBC's "Law & Order."
In recent weeks, some conservatives have been lobbying for him to enter the presidential race because, unlike Giuliani, Thompson opposes abortion rights.
Thompson, who this month announced that he has lymphoma, has said he is "keeping his options open."
Virginia's presidential primary is Feb. 12. And there are signs that Thompson could be an early favorite to win the state, even though former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III is also running.
Thompson finished first in a straw poll conducted over the weekend at the Virginia Federation of Republican Women convention in Richmond. He received 22 percent of the vote, compared with 19 percent each for Giuliani and Gilmore, Kenney said.
"If that kind of interest for an unannounced candidate is any sign, we can expect this [fundraiser] to be fairly heavily attended," Kenney said.