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Fred Thompson

A Tough Audition

Thompson, cast as an early favorite, is struggling to connect with the public

December 30, 2007|Joe Mathews

In the months of anticipation before former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson officially entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the lawyer-actor-politician was regarded as a formidable contender. Social conservatives were considered likely to coalesce behind his candidacy.

And given his Hollywood background and 6-foot-5 frame, Thompson was expected to cut an impressive figure on the campaign trail. Instead, he often has been anything but.

He tends to hunch as he speaks, failing to make eye contact with the folks in the audience. Widely seen as lethargic on the trail, he has tried to turn the apparent lack of passion into a virtue, portraying himself as a man of sound judgment.

In his TV ads, Thompson also has cast himself as someone with "common-sense conservative principles," and he calls himself the only real conservative in the race. He highlights his support for tax cuts and opposition to abortion. Thompson also has taken a hard line against illegal immigration, pledging to punish employers that hire undocumented workers and to eliminate "sanctuary cities."

During the final Republican debate in Iowa, Thompson scored points with some observers when he rebuffed the moderator, who asked for a show of hands on a question about global warming. "I'm not giving it to you," he said. He since has boasted that he won the debate "hands down."

Still, polls show his support as weak -- and slipping -- in the early-voting states. Thompson is banking most on the Jan. 19 primary in South Carolina, where his folksy Tennessee style has connected better with voters.

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-- Joe Mathews

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