Thompson supportersdrumming up backing for '08 presidential bid

Associated Press • Mar 10, 2007 at 6:24 AM

NASHVILLE - One Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan, served as president for eight years. So why not an actor who plays a district attorney on TV?

Fred Thompson, the character Arthur Branch on NBC's drama "Law & Order," is being urged to pursue the GOP nomination by several Tennessee Republicans who also have been trying to drum up support for a candidacy.

Former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker has been talking to senators. Rep. Zach Wamp has been in touch with colleagues in the House.

"It's something I hope happens," Wamp said Friday. "We need that kind of star quality, but most importantly we need his strength and resolve."

Wamp said he asked Thompson to consider running immediately after former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, another Tennessee Republican, decided not to run for president late last year.

"I think he has an open mind, and he sees the need," Wamp said.

Thompson, 64, the minority counsel in the Watergate investigation, was elected to the Senate in 1994 to fill the unexpired term of Vice President Al Gore. He was chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and left the Senate in 2003 to resume his acting career.

He took an active role in shepherding Chief Justice John Roberts through the Senate confirmation process in 2005.

Thompson recently raised money for the defense of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was found guilty of perjury and obstruction in the investigation into the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

Thompson has acted in films such as "The Hunt for Red October," "Cape Fear," and "In the Line of Fire."

He has had no comment about a possible White House bid.

Thompson appeared in some key campaign events and television ads during Sen. Bob Corker's close race for Frist's Senate seat least year. The topic of a Thompson presidential run came up during the campaign, said Todd Womack, Corker's chief of staff. "Corker kidded Sen. Thompson about him running, and they had a conversation then about the possibility," Womack said.

If he decided to run, Thompson would join a crowded GOP field led by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The number could grow on Monday when Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel makes an announcement on his future plans.

Tom Daffron, who was Thompson's chief of staff in the Senate from 1994 to 1998, said he hasn't spoken with Thompson about a presidential bid. "This has happened largely spontaneously - perhaps urged on by some of the people who used to work for him - but without him being involved," said Daffron, who now runs a consulting firm in Washington. Wamp said he has not discussed a presidential run with Thompson recently, but added that he's trying to arrange a Thompson visit with congressmen within the next two weeks. Baker did not return a phone call seeking comment, but his aide, Fred Marcum, confirmed the former senator from Tennessee and U.S. ambassador to Japan was in Washington on Thursday to speak with friends and former colleagues about a Thompson run. Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said it's uncertain whether Thompson could galvanize the Republican base - or more importantly the fundraisers - as some of his supporters might hope. "I think it's highly unlikely that he becomes a candidate, and more unlikely that he'd be successful as a candidate," Oppenheimer said. "People look great until they announce their candidacy - and then people start looking at their shortcomings." Oppenheimer said Gore would have a better chance at raising the necessary campaign cash. Gore, who recently starred in the Academy Award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," has said repeatedly he has no plans to join the field of 2008 Democratic presidential aspirants. But his unwillingness to rule out a run completely has given some activists hope that he might change his mind. Daffron said Thompson wouldn't be overly penalized by a late start. "Fred's got millions of dollars worth of name recognition from the movies and television," Daffron said. "So he is not starting from ground zero." AP-CS-03-09-07 1926EST

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