Sunday, April 1, 2007

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson yesterday announced his intentions to run for president, calling himself the “only reliable conservative” in the race for the Republican nomination.

Mr. Thompson, who served as secretary of Health and Human Services during President Bush’s first term, said he’d ask Iraqis to hold a national referendum on whether American forces should leave the country.

“I think my record shows that I’m reliable,” Mr. Thompson said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” “I’m the only one who has put together a state budget and a federal budget. And I’ve put together state budgets for 14 years, all of which were balanced, and all of which did not have an income-tax or a sales-tax increase.”

The polls show Mr. Thompson in the bottom tier of candidates considering a 2008 run for the White House. When asked about current front-runners former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain, he refused to criticize any of his fellow Republicans.

“They’re all wonderful people. I didn’t say that they weren’t. I just said that I am the reliable conservative,” he said.

Even though Mr. Thompson served in the Bush administration, he said his administration would be “tremendously” different from that of Mr. Bush’s, specifically on Iraq.

“I would have a completely different Iraq strategy,” he said. “I would demand the al-Maliki government first to vote as to whether or not they want the United States in the country. Nobody has ever asked that government, duly elected, to vote. And if they vote that they want the United States in their country, it immediately gives a degree of legitimacy.”

Although he said he thinks the Iraqis would vote for U.S. forces to remain in the country, Mr. Thompson said he’d consider the vote binding, even if it went the other way. “We would get out, absolutely. It’s a duly elected government.”

However, he also said he supports Mr. Bush’s veto threat over the Democrats’ recently approved Iraq war supplemental-spending bill, which calls for a withdrawal of American forces by 2008. “I would not sign it,” he said.

Along with Iraq, Mr. Thompson also sought to distance himself from the administration on other issues, including the current debate over several fired U.S. attorneys. Refusing to speculate on whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales should resign amid criticism of his handling of the firings, Mr. Thompson said he never would have hired Mr. Gonzales in the first place.

Mr. Thompson said he thinks there is room for his candidacy in the Republican field, because primary voters are not satisfied with the current contenders, and what he called a lack of “original, new ideas.”

“In Iowa, the polls last week came out that I was in fifth place and moving up and at 5 percent. So I’m telling you, things [have] started to coalesce and I feel very, very optimistic about my future.”

Iowa is a critical state in the presidential-nominating process because it has long held the first caucus for both parties and will also conduct an important, if early, straw poll this summer.

“I have been spending all my time in Iowa and some time in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but I really got an Iowa strategy, and I’ve been in Iowa every single week since the first week in December,” he said.

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