Thompson announces candidacy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson announced his candidacy for president Sept. 5 after weeks of speculation, joining a field of eight other Republican candidates and giving social conservatives another top-tier choice.

Thompson told the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" audience simply, "I'm running for president of the United States," and then hours later had a 15-minute video posted on his website outlining his vision for America. In that video he touched on two major social conservative themes -- the sanctity of life and the role of the judiciary -- and told how thinking about his children's future drove him to run.

Thompson's entry comes months after the other major GOP candidates announced their candidacies. He skipped a New Hampshire Republican debate in order to appear on Leno's program.

"I don't think people are going to say, 'You know, that guy would make a very good president, but he just didn't get in soon enough,'" Thompson said.

Despite his late entry, Thompson is second in most national GOP polls -- trailing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- although he's third in some Iowa polls and third or fourth in some New Hampshire ones. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the GOP polls in both states.

The candidates at the GOP debate ribbed Thompson for choosing Leno over the New Hampshire forum.

"Maybe we're up past his bedtime," U.S. Sen. John McCain said to laughter, adding that the people of New Hampshire "expect to see you a lot."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee drew much applause when he joked that he was "scheduled to be on Jay Leno" (he wasn't) but "gave up my slot for somebody else because I'd rather be in New Hampshire with these fine people."

Appearing on Leno, Thompson -- who represented Tennessee for eight years -- said he would appear in future debates but found the current multiple-candidate, 30-second sound-byte format not to be a "very enlightening forum." His preference, he said, is to participate with only a few candidates, and "preferably one on one."

Although his policy discussions on the Tonight Show focused mostly on Iraq -- he said the U.S. should stay there until the country is "pacified enough" for Iraqis to "have an opportunity to have a free life" -- he did discuss some hot-button social issues in his video.

"It's very important that the next president appoint federal judges who interpret the Constitution, not try to make it fit their own personal or political views," he said on the video. "I've seen both kinds of judges, and I know the difference."

He said he believes in the "sanctity of life -- the great truth that every life matters, that no person is beneath the protection of the law."

Abortion and a handful of other social issues also were among the topics of the GOP debate. Romney was asked to explain his so-called "two-step process" for ending abortion in America. The first step would involve overturning Roe v. Wade -- sending the issue back to the states -- and the second step, a human life amendment banning abortion in the Constitution.

"I believe almost all of us in the room would say that we'd love to have an America that didn't have abortion," Romney said. "But the truth of the matter is that that's not what America is right now. That's not where the American people are right now, and so I'd like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and allow the states and the elected representatives of the people and the people themselves have the ability to put in place pro-life legislation."

Pro-lifers, Romney said, should "work to change hearts and minds, and that's the way, in my view, we'll ultimately have a society without abortion."

Huckabee said he supports a pro-life constitutional amendment.

"I would love to see us have in this country what I helped lead in our state in Arkansas, and that's a human life amendment to our state constitution, Amendment 65," Huckabee said, referring to a failed effort in the 1980s. "It says that we believe life begins at conception and that we ought to do everything in the world possible to protect it until its natural conclusion, and that means that we truly value and respect, elevate and celebrate every life."

Among other debate highlights:

-- Giuliani said his private life has not impacted the way he has governed and should not be a focus of criticism. He is twice divorced and on his third marriage. Referring to his accomplishments as mayor of New York, he said, "So obviously any issues in my private life do not affect my public performance."

Issues in his private life, Giuliani said, "I don't think are terribly different than at least some people in this country."

-- U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback defended the need for a constitutional marriage amendment, although the Republican audience had some libertarians who vocally disagreed and booed him.

"In countries that have redefined marriage, where they've said, OK, it's not just a man and a woman, it can be two men, two women, the marriage rates in those countries have plummeted to where you have counties now in northern Europe where 80 percent of the first-born children are born out of wedlock," Brownback said. "We don't need more children born out of wedlock. We need more children born into wedlock between a mom and a dad bonded together for life."

Legalizing "gay marriage," Brownback said, impacts "the rest of the culture around you."

"When you take the sacredness out of marriage, you will drive the marriage rates down," Brownback said. "And currently in this country, currently we're at 36 percent of our children born out of wedlock. You can raise a good child in that setting, but we know the best place is between a mom and a dad bonded together for life."

-- Brownback and McCain said U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho did the right thing in announcing his intent to resign in the wake of the airport bathroom controversy.

"I think it is important that the party stand for family values," Brownback said.


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