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In Online Writings, Thompson Flashes His Conservative Credentials

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By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007

On the Internet sites where conservatives gather to read and chat each day, Fred D. Thompson, the as-yet-unannounced Republican presidential candidate, has been laying out his positions on dozens of issues with little public notice and plenty of rhetorical flair.

The Virginia Tech massacre, he said, showed that students should be allowed to carry guns "to protect themselves on their campuses," and he said the university's ban on legal guns may have contributed to how long the shooter was able to keep killing.

Scientists who insist that global warming is ruining nature, he said, are like those true believers four centuries ago who insisted that the Earth is flat. "Ask Galileo," he said.

As for Congress's recent attempt at an immigration overhaul, that was nothing more than a "legislative pig" with lipstick that hid the United States' failure to secure its borders. "A nation without secure borders will not long be a sovereign nation," he warned.

The musings seem to constitute Thompson's early effort at assuring the core conservatives of the Republican Party that he is one of them -- despite his run-ins with the bloc as a U.S. senator who supported campaign finance reform and opposed federal limits on malpractice lawsuits and attorneys' fees.

"They were wildly popular," said Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, where three dozen commentaries by Thompson have been posted since he started testing the presidential waters in March. "It was a great way to introduce himself. He had just the right balance of red meat and substance to feed a conservative audience -- at least as an opener."

Thompson's writings could prove problematic in a general election, where he would have to win over moderate voters.

"Today, everything is out there forever, and you don't have any luxury of claiming there was a misunderstanding," said Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist. "If a campaign is putting some of these comments out there, they are going to have to live with them for the rest of the campaign."

Rollins knows the benefits and risks of an actor-turned-politician's use of a "commentary campaign" to burnish conservative credentials before a run for the White House. He worked for Ronald Reagan, who for years used radio commentaries and columns to lay out his vision for America before running for president.

Thompson mostly writes his own articles, often borrowing material from the commentaries he gives on ABC Radio as a frequent contributor to Paul Harvey's show, aides said. In addition to his articles on National Review Online, Thompson has posted to the Townhall.com blog and placed podcasts on RedState.com, including a three-part, issue-oriented interview.

Thompson's attempts to curry conservative favor come as his efforts to raise money and assemble a nationwide campaign staff have experienced growing pains. He finished June with just over $3 million raised, putting him well behind the top contenders.

On Tuesday, he moved aside Tom Collamore, the man he had picked to assemble his campaign. That decision prompted the immediate departure of the research director. Several sources close to the campaign said Thompson's wife, Jeri, had lost confidence in Collamore and was exerting increased authority over campaign decisions.


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