Des Moines: Former Senator Fred Thompson took aim at Democrat Hillary Clinton as he made a long-delayed entry into the Republican presidential race and immediately took good-natured jabs from rivals.
Thompson, 65, a Hollywood actor whose face is familiar to millions of Americans and who has played the role of a President thrice in movies, launched his bid in a video on his Website, www.Fred08.com, and in an appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
After “testing waters” for six months and twice shaking up his staff, the tall, folksy Tennessean entered the campaign hoping to offer a fresh face in a Republican field that has failed to generate a lot of excitement.
Many Republicans believe he is entering the race too late to be able to win, an accusation rejected by Thompson on “The Tonight Show.”
He said he doubted Americans will say: “That guy would make a very good president, but he didn’t get in soon enough.”
Thompson also seemed to directly challenge the notion floated by some Republicans that he is lazy and lacks the drive to win in November 2008.
“I’m going to give this campaign all that I have to give, and I hope that you will join me,” he said in his Web video.
Instead of appearing at a Republican debate in New Hampshire on Wednesday night, his campaign broadcast a Thompson advertisement during the event sponsored by the Fox News Channel.
He immediately drew fire from Republican rivals at the debate for not showing up. “Maybe we’re up past his bedtime,” cracked Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Added former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: “You know, the only question I have for Senator Thompson is: Why the hurry? Why not take some more time off?”
Taking aim at Hillary Clinton
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Thompson will add value to the race, but noted, “This is a nomination you have to earn, though. Nobody’s going to give it to you. Nobody’s going to grant it to you. Nobody is going to crown you.”
Giuliani leads national polls of the Republican field, and Romney leads polls in the key early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Thompson is second or third in most polls.
In his Web video, Thompson directed fire at Clinton, a message seemingly aimed at generating enthusiasm among Republican primary voters who are loathe to see the New York senator win the presidency.
Thompson noted that when he was elected to the US Senate in 1994, it came two years after his party was demoralized by Democrat Bill Clinton’s election as president.
“In 1994, our conservative principles led us to a comeback and majority control of the Congress. Now you don’t want to have to come back from another Clinton victory. Our country needs us to win next year, and I am ready to lead that effort,” Thompson said.
He was to address supporters in Des Moines on Thursday afternoon as part of a trip to the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
He lumped the Iraq war with the conflict in Afghanistan as part of a larger war against Islamic extremism that must be pursued, warning the United States must not be seen as “weak and divided” amid a debate in Washington about whether to withdraw US troops.
“Our courage as a people must match that of the brave men and women in uniform fighting for us. We must do everything in our power to achieve success and make sure that they and their families’ sacrifices are not made in vain,” he said.
Thompson sought to claim the conservative mantle in the mold of late President Ronald Reagan by saying he does not accept that “the federal government must go on expanding more, taxing more, and spending more forever.”
Thompson expressed concern about the future of US and took a jab at President George W Bush without mentioning him by name by attacking the failure to stop illegal immigration in the country, a cause celebre of the Republican right.