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Archive for Monday, March 19, 2007

Reublicans mull actor, former senator for presidential bid

March 19, 2007

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— Conservatives often ridicule Democrats for espousing the "culture of Hollywood." But in the latest sign of Republican discontent with the field of 2008 presidential hopefuls - and in a familiar plot twist - some of those same activists are eyeing a movie actor as the party's potential savior.

Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee who once played a White House chief of staff on the big screen and appears now as a politically savvy prosecutor on TV's "Law & Order," is positioning himself to answer the call - and perhaps follow the script that saw Ronald Reagan jump from Hollywood to the White House.

Thompson is scheduled to visit Capitol Hill in a few weeks, a trip designed to dovetail with efforts by three well-connected Tennessee friends to line up support for drafting him into a GOP campaign that so far has left many core Republican leaders discouraged.

One of those friends, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has called for a Thompson candidacy in postings on his political action committee's blog. Meanwhile, Howard Baker, another former Senate majority leader who also served as a White House chief of staff under Reagan, and Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., have been recruiting congressional endorsements.

Thompson "is in the process of getting his personal affairs in order so this has a chance of happening," said Wamp, who spoke at length this week with Thompson.

Wamp said about 40 House members are interested in meeting with Thompson. Frist told supporters Friday that Thompson was interested in hearing their reactions.

Plenty of obstacles remain for Thompson - or any other candidate who would enter the fray - given that other presidential aspirants have secured major endorsements and hired strategists, while investing millions of dollars to build networks in the early-voting primary states.

But the effort coalescing behind Thompson underscores the extent to which leading conservatives are dissatisfied with a GOP race that has front-runner status being staked out by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a moderate on abortion and gay rights.

The leading alternatives to Giuliani have not quelled the disenchantment - top conservatives remain wary of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney suffers from his one-time moderation on a range of social issues.

Romney has disavowed those positions and stressed his commitment to conservative causes. He won a straw poll at a recent conference of conservative activists in Washington - but even after busing supporters to the event, he came out on top with just 21 percent of the vote.

"That's not what I would call a ringing endorsement," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organized the gathering.

"People are looking at the field and saying consumers are not going to buy the product," Keene added. "At a certain point, you can put a new one on the market and clean up."

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