Wednesday, April 18, 2007

CORRECTION: This article incorrectly reported the circumstances of a phone call from former Sen. Fred Thompson and his wife about the possible launch of a presidential campaign. The call was received by Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who said, “No date or time frame was mentioned.”

The same article also misstated the predictions of Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, about a possible Thompson candidacy. While Mr. Land said Mr. Thompson would be “odds-on favorite” to win the Republican nomination, he did not say the Tennessee ex-senator was sure to win the presidency.

Evidence of former Sen. Fred Thompson’s presidential appeal to victory-seeking conservatives is growing, including drawing more than 50 House Republicans yesterday to hear his pitch and walking out with some endorsements for the Tennessean.

“When Fred Thompson runs for president, I will endorse him,” said Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida.

Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana said Mr. Thompson “is ready, and I want him to run.”

Richard Land, one of the nation’s leading Southern Baptists, told The Washington Times yesterday that Mr. Thompson is sure to win if he runs.

The actor-politician has invited Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder to attend any announcement of a presidential candidacy.

“If Fred Thompson enters the race, he will be the odds-on favorite to become the nominee,” said Mr. Land, president of the South Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “He will be a formidable candidate in the general election for the presidency.”

Mr. Kinder, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, noted that “Thompson won both his U.S. Senate races by more than 20 percentage points in a state that Bill Clinton carried twice.”

“Fred Thompson has demonstrated massive crossover appeal [to Democrats and independents] reminiscent of Reagan,” Mr. Kinder said.

Mr. Land and Mr. Kinder’s enthusiasm adds to the conviction among Republican insiders that Mr. Thompson will enter the contest and become a magnet for Iraq war advocates and social conservatives looking for a candidate they can trust.

Mr. Thompson told reporters he was on Capitol Hill to meet old friends and make new ones, but said nothing about his political ambitions.

Rep. Zach Wamp, the Tennessee Republican who organized the meeting, said five of the seven members of the Republican leadership were among the 53 lawmakers who attended. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri did not attend. Mr. Wamp said Mr. Blunt had been scheduled to meet with President Bush.

Not all of the Republicans meeting with Mr. Thompson were ready to make an endorsement. Many said they simply wanted to hear what he had to say. Mr. Thompson had the ear of Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa and Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, whose states have early primaries or caucuses.

“After seven failed years of George Bush, this party needs somebody who can excite them,” said Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican. He was one of the outspoken conservatives against the Iraq war who attended the Capitol Hill meeting.

Mr. Thompson is a former Watergate prosecutor who plays a minor role as district attorney in the popular TV series “Law & Order.”

Missouri is shaping up to be a battleground for endorsements. Gov. Matt Blunt has endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani appeared Saturday at a fundraiser for Mr. Blunt’s father, but the congressman has not publicly endorsed any candidate.

Mr. Land said Mr. Thompson’s wife, Jeri Kehn, telephoned to thank him for a complimentary newspaper column. On Saturday, Mr. Thompson phoned to say he wanted Mr. Land present at any campaign kickoff.

“No date or time frame was mentioned,” Mr. Land said.

Mr. Land gave a qualified “yes” when asked whether conservative evangelical voters will sit out the 2008 election if none of the candidates shares their values. He said they may participate in elections below the presidential level, but “you will see a significant drop in the turnout among evangelicals.”

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