05 July 2007

Son of the South

With former Virginia Sen. George Allen losing his reelection, ex-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) opting to skip the White House contest and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee not picking up much traction, Thompson could emerge as the preferred candidate of the region that unanimously powered George W. Bush to the presidency twice.

"If he enters the race, Fred Thompson should immediately become the front-runner in South Carolina and in most of the other Southern Republican primaries," observed Emory University professor Merle Black, an authority on Southern politics. "As a conservative native Southerner, he would be viewed by many Republican primary voters in the region as one of their own."

"The party is looking for a guy on a white horse," observed GOP strategist Tucker Eskew, a top Bush adviser in 2000 and a native South Carolinian. "Sen. Thompson rides into South Carolina from a good starting point.

But, Eskew pointed out, "the party's impatient and unhappy," and "bedrock Southern Republicans want their fears soothed and their hopes lifted -- a tall order."

Thompson seemed to catch the scent of that malaise in the humid summer air here.

"We've got a lot of work to do as a country," Thompson said. "We've got to start moving from the wrong direction to the right direction. We've got to turn this battleship around, one foot at a time."

While careful not to directly criticize Bush to an audience that still holds plenty of good will toward its commander in chief, Thompson focused much of his remarks on issues that the party faithful here think have gotten the GOP off course: immigration, spending and corruption.

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