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Thompson Moves From 'If' He'll Run to 'How'

Republican Fred D. Thompson's trip to New Hampshire last week included a stop in Bedford. He also visited South Carolina, another early primary state.
Republican Fred D. Thompson's trip to New Hampshire last week included a stop in Bedford. He also visited South Carolina, another early primary state. (By Jim Cole -- Associated Press)

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 2, 2007

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The venue was vintage Fred D. Thompson: a gun shop. Perfect for the down-home, Washington-outsider candidate who campaigned across Tennessee in the 1990s with a red pickup truck, rolled-up shirt sleeves and a straight-talking attitude.

But there was a difference on Thursday. Thompson was dressed in a dark blue suit, a white shirt and shiny black loafers as he chatted with gun purchasers. And as he sped away to visit a diner, it was in a caravan of a black Chevy Suburban and a black GMC Yukon, each with tinted windows and filled with advisers.

Welcome to the Thompson for President campaign.

He hasn't made it official, but an announcement will probably come in the next two weeks, top campaign advisers say. Last Tuesday, the campaign signed a long-term lease on a building in Nashville that will serve as its national headquarters. That night, Thompson raised between $600,000 and $700,000 at a glitzy fundraiser at the home of a Nashville music mogul.

"I'm testing the water, and the water feels real warm," he teased the 300 donors that night as they munched on iced shrimp.

Later, in New Hampshire, the former "Law & Order" television star told an audience of Republican activists, "I don't have any big announcements here tonight."

"Aaaawwww," came the response.

"I plan on seeing a whole lot more of you," Thompson thundered. "How about that?"

But even as he rushes to assemble the infrastructure for a presidential campaign, he is still struggling to define what his candidacy, and a potential Thompson presidency, will be about. Will he embrace his Southern drawl and campaign, as fellow Tennessean Lamar Alexander once did, in a Paul Bunyan-esque shirt? Or will he tout his decades as a Capitol Hill staff member, lobbyist, lawyer, senator and friend to the powerful?

In his first two speeches in important primary states last week, here and in South Carolina, Thompson seemed to suggest he will do both.

"I just came from Nashville, and I don't feel like I've left home," Thompson told a crowd in Columbia, S.C., Wednesday afternoon. He then repeatedly mocked Washington politicians, at one point referring to the "foolishness" in the nation's capital.

At New Hampshire's Wayfarer Inn the next day, Thompson said that the federal government is "not competent to be doing the very basic things it was elected to do in many cases."


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