- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

Those who remember Fred Thompson from his campaigns for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee say he might not meet Ronald Reagan standards when he speaks, but he is not as bad as some of the reviews from his major political speech in California last week.

“He’s always been a very direct and blunt type of speaker. He’s never been a polished politician, and a lot of us respect that,” said Angelo Cobrasci, founder of the Shelby County Conservative Republican Club in Tennessee.

“Everybody’s calling him the next Ronald Reagan — I see him more as the next Barry Goldwater. If you’ll notice, what Fred does is he’s true to his conservative values and true to his statesmanship.”

Mr. Thompson, who has said he is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, gets another chance to practice this weekend in a closed-door address to the Council for National Policy, a forum for major conservative leaders.

His advisers say Mr. Thompson might have suffered from some technical issues, but that the bad reviews — including a bruising column by Robert Novak that labeled the speech a “letdown” — are the result of “overblown expectations.” They said Mr. Thompson did what he meant to do.

“He wasn’t setting out to deliver a barn-burner. His point was to have a conversation with another group of Americans and another group of party activists,” said Mark Corallo, a communications adviser to Mr. Thompson.

John G. Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said the speech wasn’t as bad as some have suggested.

Mr. Geer said it was Mr. Thompson’s typical “folksy” style, but also pointed out the former senator has been off the political speech-making circuit for some time.

“It’s mostly that people wanted it to be more specific, and at the same time, this is his style,” Mr. Geer said.

The folksy style has drawn comparisons to Mr. Reagan for more than a dozen years — including a 1994 New York Times column, “A star is born,” praising Mr. Thompson’s five-minute official Republican response to a President Clinton tax speech.

In last week’s 35-minute speech to the Lincoln Club of Orange County, Mr. Thompson praised federalism, rallied to the defense of the Iraq war effort and warned of future military threats from Russia and China. He also avoided any “red meat” style comments designed to stoke the partisan feelings of the conservative crowd.

But it was his delivery, more than the content, that drew criticism, including Mr. Novak’s evaluation that it was “ordinary.”

Mr. Thompson usually doesn’t speak from a text, though before his Friday speech to the Lincoln Club of Orange County he released what he labeled excerpts of his prepared remarks. At times, he seemed to stumble over his notes and his place in the speech.

His backers said Mr. Thompson had a difficult time with the microphone, which even stretched to its limit was set far too low for the 6-foot-6 actor. That was evident hours before he spoke, when the master of ceremonies going through a dry run of his introduction also had problems with the microphone.

Mr. Thompson’s style of leaning on the lectern and moving while talking also affected the way he sounded over the audio system.

“I know one thing: From now on whenever he does anything, we’re probably going to ask for a wireless mic so we don’t have that problem,” said Mr. Corallo, the communications adviser.

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