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Fred Thompson Pitches Credibility, But Iowa Voters Prefer Red Meat

Fred Thompson is telling Iowa Republicans that his credibility makes him more appealing to independent voters?and thus more likely to beat the Democrats in the general election. But voters are only interested in his conservative credentials and folksy charm.

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 3:00 AM EST

Fred Thompson told Iowa Republicans this past weekend that they should vote for him not only because of his conservative credentials but because of his ability to attract independents.

"If you look at the numbers," said the former Tennessee senator, "in terms of the Republican Party, we're losing some. In terms of the Independents out there, many of them are moving to Democrats." Campaigning in the town of Burlington on the banks of the Mississippi River, Thompson warned that without the right GOP nominee, "Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid will be running this country."

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And choosing the right nominee requires doing some electoral math. "I will humbly suggest to you that we need a candidate for president who is a conservative who can get some independent votes," the candidate said, speaking at a local watering hole called Big Muddy's in front of 29 campaign signs and half a ski boat hanging on the wall. (Mounted nearby: the rear end of a whitetail deer.) The reason why Thompson can get those votes, he said, is credibility. Thompson repeatedly emphasized credibility, sometimes simply uttering the word out of context. "Credibility!" he said. "It's a big word."

Like a good lawyer, Thompson builds his case on multiple arguments. But each has holes.

Exhibit A is his Social Security plan. Thompson claims to be the only candidate—Democrat or Republican—who has put out a plan to address this difficult political issue.

Problem is, he's not. Barack Obama and John Edwards have said publicly that they support lifting the $97,500 ceiling on payroll taxes in order to make the program solvent. Hillary Clinton has discussed the situation but has stopped short of giving specifics. All of the Democrats discuss Social Security as part of very comprehensive plans to ensure the financial and health security of America's seniors. Thompson is more accurate on the Republican side: Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani all fail to mention the topic on the issues pages of their websites. However, this is because the Republican solution to Social Security is personal savings accounts, which George Bush pushed in 2005 to disastrous results. Thompson's plan relies on such accounts, though he calls them "Voluntary Personal Retirement 'Add On' Accounts." It is unclear whether mentioning his rehash of a failed policy proposal at every campaign stop will draw voters to his campaign.

Exhibit B is a series of lonely votes Thompson made while in the Senate. "Once in a while I cast a vote all by myself. Couple 99-to-1 votes, when I was the 1," he says. These were votes against bills that were "kind of motherhood and apple pie," admits Thompson. But he stood strong on the principle of federalism, insisting that the federal government in these cases didn't have jurisdiction or would fumble something better left to the states. "I voted against every Democrat and every Republican in the joint!" crowed Thompson in Burlington.

Unfortunately, these aren't votes Thompson should advertise. Thompson was the only senator to vote against a 2000 Senate resolution "encouraging local schools to insist on zero-tolerance policies towards violence and illegal drug use." In 1997, he was lone vote against a bill that extended liability protection to "good Samaritans" (volunteers for non-profits who could otherwise be subject to unintentional injury or wrongful-death suits). Four years later he was the only vote against an amendment to the No Child Left Behind bill that offered the same protection to school teachers. These last two votes are reminders of Thompson's history as a trial lawyer, in which he worked for white-collar criminals and drug defendants.

In fact, Thompson has a long history of protecting the rights of lawyers. According to the Washington Post, "Thompson routinely voted against legislation aimed at shrinking the size of fees that attorneys could collect and rejected limits on medical malpractice lawsuits." He has raised $700,000 for his presidential race from lawyers; they have given more money to his campaign than any other industry.

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