The signs are getting larger and louder that former Sen. Fred Thompson is moving toward a decision to get into the 2008 presidential race. His recent posting on the popular conservative community site RedState (on a Saturday no less) garnered a surprising amount of traffic, and the fact that Thompson is reaching out so readily online suggests he's looking to do something more than blog.
Another sign: other campaigns appear to be getting nervous. Increasingly minions for the Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani camps have been extending a whispering campaign against Thompson, both online and elsewhere.
Sometimes it isn't even a whisper. The former Massachusetts governor has taken to dismissing Thompson as a "TV personality" and nothing more.
Beyond attempting to diminish Thompson in the minds of voters, both campaigns -- and their online messengers -- are taking up two lines of attack: that Thompson is a flip-flopper like Romney on the abortion issue, and that Thompson's support of campaign finance reform somehow makes him less of a conservative.
According to Thompson supporters who have been reviewing his Senate records, there is no evidence that Thompson took a pro-abortion position during his time in Washington.
"As far as we can tell, Senator Thompson never cast a pro-choice vote in his eight years in the Senate," says an aide to a current Republican U.S. Senator who asked that his staff look into Thompson, perhaps with an eye to an endorsement down the road.
In fact, The American Spectator's Philip Klein reported that back in 1994 National Right to Life executive co-director Darla St. Martin interviewed Thompson leading into his Senate campaign and confirmed he was pro-life.
"I interviewed him and on all of the questions I asked him, he opposed abortion," St. Martin told Klein. "He has a consistent voting record that is pro-life," she said.
Some believe that where confusion has arisen is not on his votes -- which are clean and straight pro-life -- but on his lack of enthusiasm for a Constitutional amendment banning abortions.
"Thompson was a pretty clear cut state-rights guy, so it follows that he'd be supportive of Roe being overturned and everything being tossed back to the states," says a longtime Senate staffer familiar with Thompson's Senate career. "A constitutional ban wouldn't have been something he'd be particularly warm to, I'd think."
Something else Thompson wasn't warm to was piles of soft money and the kind of anything-goes fundraising that President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were undertaking back in the 1990s. That's why he supported McCain-Feingold. He explained it this way on Fox News Sunday several weeks ago:
THOMPSON: I came from the outside to Congress. And it always seemed strange to me. We've got a situation where people could give politicians huge sums of money, which is the soft money situation at that time, and then come before those same politicians and ask them to pass legislation for them.
I mean, you get thrown in jail for stuff like that in the real world. And so I always thought that there was some reasonable limitation that ought to be put on that, and you know, looking back on history, Barry Goldwater in his heyday felt the same thing.
So that's not a non-conservative position, although I agree that a lot of people have interpreted it that way.
Thompson has been straight enough to say that what he voted for -- and President Bush signed into law -- hasn't worked out so well. Would he do it again? It would appear not, but that's something Thompson will have to detail on his own.
"But the fact that these other campaigns are focusing on a guy who isn't even in the race is remarkable to me," says a political consultant who is nonaligned in the race. "Romney ought to be focusing more in his own problems and less on distinguishing himself from someone else. When you're at three percent in the national polls, that's the kind of advice someone should be giving him."
The decision by former Wisconsin governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is considered a headscratcher by a number of Republicans. Thompson, a Roman Catholic, who has been good on life issues and is married to an ex-nun, has kept a low profile since leaving the Bush Administration.
In the 1990s Thompson was part of the high-profile gubernatorial brain trust -- along with governors John Engler and George Pataki -- that was viewed as the future of the Republican Party, until W came along.
Engler has never expressed a desire to get back into politics, Pataki has apparently abandoned hopes for a presidential run, so now it's Thompson. But he has some issues to deal with, among them a couple of ethical scrapes. Most recently, investigators from the General Accounting Office determined that Thompson violated federal law by using $9.5 million in Health and Humans Services funds -- in other words, tax payer dollars -- to promote changes to Medicare. The GAO determined that some of those changes would have benefited companies that Thompson has a financial stake in. One of the companies was VeriChip, which is marketing an implantable microchip that would contain data that would help healthcare facilities quickly assist patients with proper treatment.
As well, Thompson oversaw the Medicare overhaul plan, which turned out to cost $150 billion more than expected. The GAO found that Thompson aides worked behind the scenes to hide the true cost of the reforms.