Cover Story

Blah & order

"Blah & order" Continued...

Issue: "He's in," Sept. 22, 2007

Similar justifications for war might well apply to Iran, a possibility the former chairman of the State Department's International Security Advisory Board does not rule out. Thompson views the conflict in Iraq as just one piece in an ongoing war against an ideology that will test American resolve. "We've had war declared on us by a group of people who have no principles, have no compassion, and play by no rules," he said. "Iraq is a part of that problem, but it's part of a much bigger problem."

Thompson has made national security the centerpiece of his campaign. He decries the country's decrease in military spending following the Cold War and is an unapologetic advocate for peace through strength.

Such hawkish commitments serve Thompson well with many members of the armed forces. On this Sunday afternoon at a Manchester sports bar, Desert Storm veteran Andrew Patterson relished the chance to meet one of his political heroes before the start of the New England Patriots game. "I'm a big fan, because he's very pro-military," Patterson explained.

The appeal of Thompson's apparent toughness in the war on terror stretches well beyond military ranks. Self-described Fred-head Steve Smith brought his entire family to Jillian's sports bar for a chance to meet the GOP candidate. Smith considers himself a religious-values voter, but is more concerned with national security for this election cycle than typical hot-button social issues like abortion or gay marriage.

He is not alone: Many socially conservative evangelicals and Catholics view Thompson as the most viable top-tier candidate despite his relative quiet on so-called values issues. Though the issue is not featured in his campaign, Thompson maintains a consistently conservative record on abortion, having received a 100-percent rating from National Right to Life during his eight years in the Senate.

On gay marriage, Thompson supports an amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit states from imposing their laws on other states-a measure that falls short of more sweeping legislation to define marriage as between a man and a woman, but one consistent with Thompson's support of federalism.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, predicted that evangelicals would flock to Thompson once he entered the race, abandoning the pro-abortion front-runner Giuliani. Indeed, Thompson has seen a spike in national polls since his announcement, though Giuliani continues to lead.

Thompson does not possess the same kind of evangelical appeal that President George W. Bush established in his two successful bids for the White House. Whereas Bush spoke often of his faith and connected on a personal level with evangelicals, Thompson rarely invokes God-except to reaffirm the Founding Fathers' guiding principle that human rights come from God rather than the state.

Though Thompson does not attend church regularly, he objected earlier this year when Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson suggested he was not a Christian. In fact, Thompson was baptized in the Church of Christ as a teenager and still maintains some allegiance to that association.

Like many Christians, Fred-head Smith is more concerned with Thompson's record on political issues than his theological convictions: "You certainly know where he stands on things, and he's been consistent on acting on those things."

But not everyone at Jillian's was so thrilled to see the Republican politician or the gaggle of media blocking views of big-screen televisions. Sensing unrest with the distraction, Thompson quickly ordered a hamburger with everything on it and a diet Coke before returning to his campaign bus to catch the first half of the Patriots season-opener.

Two hours later, as the Patriots soundly thumped the New York Jets, football fans at P.J. O'Sullivan's across town seemed more agreeable to Thompson's presence. Grinning ear to ear after scoring a hug from the senator, local resident Joanne Blake explained her attraction: "Number one, he's Law & Order, and I love Law & Order. Number two, he says it as it is."

Thompson's television stardom after six seasons with the popular NBC drama is no small piece to his campaign. He consistently mentions his acting career-which includes playing the president in one film-during stump speeches. Such screen time affords Thompson immediate familiarity in the minds of potential voters. People know him as the honest, straight-shooting, authority figure he portrays on TV.

In reality, Thompson's story is less than idyllic. Married at 17 after impregnating his girlfriend Sarah Lindsey, the notorious goof-off finished high school as a husband and father. That sudden shot of responsibility helped awaken Thompson to the realities of adulthood. He worked multiple jobs to support his young family, and in 1967 graduated from Vanderbilt Law School near the top of his class.

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