Likely Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson on Wednesday plucked Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University, as his manager.
Lacy, a longtime political operative who managed Thompson's 1994 U.S. Senate victory, will take an unpaid leave of absence from the Dole Institute for an indefinite period of time.
"Bill Lacy worked in the campaigns of President Reagan, President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole from 1980 to 1996," Thompson said. "He turned around my campaign for Senate in 1994 and, as I move toward a decision on whether to run for president, I am confident he will take our operations to the next level."
Lacy, who has been director of the Dole Institute since September 2004, said he is practicing what he teaches students: getting involved in politics to try to change things.
"I tell students to be more involved in politics, so when Fred called me, I absolutely had to respond," said Lacy, who already was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday scoping out the Thompson headquarters.
Lacy said he intends to return as director of the Dole Institute, but the length of his leave is undetermined.
"I absolutely love my job at the Dole Institute," he said.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway supported Lacy's decision.
"Bill has been an extraordinary leader and visionary for the institute, so it's no wonder Fred Thompson is seeking his services again. This is a tremendous honor for Bill and for KU," Hemenway said.
A former Reagan White House aide, Lacy will have full operational control of the Friends of Fred Thompson committee that is exploring a possible campaign for president.
Should Thompson decide to run for president, Lacy said he then would run his campaign committee.
"It's going to be fun," Lacy said. "Fred is a great guy."
He said Thompson contacted him about 10 days ago about taking the position. Lacy said he would do it as long as he didn't have to give up his job as director of the Dole Institute. Hemenway said an interim director to oversee the Dole Institute will be named next week.
Thompson, a former Tennessee senator and well-known actor on the television show "Law & Order," has become a rising star in the Republican race even though he hasn't officially entered it yet.
"He is popular with his ability to communicate in a very plain way. He is conservative and he has a star quality," Lacy said.
Some have speculated that Thompson's popularity may have already peaked. The selection of Lacy follows some high-profile staff departures from the Thompson committee.
Thompson's official announcement on whether he will run for president is expected in early September.
Lacy said once people know more about Thompson, the more they will like him.
He said he plans to "retool the Thompson operation to implement a nontraditional, message-driven effort."