Thompson looking to gather support for presidential bid
Former U.S. senator and actor Fred Thompson spent part of his Gulf Coast vacation Thursday night in Pensacola garnering political support for a potential presidential run.
Thompson had a private dinner with local supporters at the Fish House restaurant, and then he spent some time meeting and greeting locals.
He said the informal dinner was "testing the waters" and he plans to announce "in the not too distant future" whether he'll run for president.
"People are looking for a new direction for the country," Thompson said. "I will talk straight to them and not be afraid to have a vision for the future."
While vacationing in Alabama, Thompson phoned U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, to see if he could get about 20 people together to help gauge what kind of support Thompson has in the area. Forty-six showed up, said Collier Merrill, owner of the Fish House.
"All of the people I called to come to this said yes," Miller said. "There is no question Fred Thompson is the right man for the job for Northwest Florida."
Jim Inman was eating at the Fish House when Thompson came up to his table to say hello. Inman used to play in a rock band in Nashville called The Impollos that Thompson followed as a young man. Inman and Thompson shared a moment remembering those days.
"He is the kind of guy I am looking for for president," Inman said. "He has that good, old Tennessee common sense about him."
Thompson, a former Republican senator from Tennessee and star of the TV show, "Law and Order," has launched an exploratory committee to look at a possible run for the White House in 2008.
Since that time, Web sites such as "Draft Fred Thompson," "Fred Head," and "Fred Facts" have popped up in support.
In June, Thompson filed papers that would allow him to raise funds to further explore a presidential run.
"During dinner, Congressman Miller explained how there was a movement of 'Fred Heads,' and Fred joked that he and his wife are 'Fred necks,' " said Merrill, a close friend of Thompson. "I have had a lot of people ask me for my support for different candidates, but not knowing what Fred is going to do I haven't committed to anyone. If he runs I would definitely support him."
During a brief interview, Thompson said he supports the current mission in Iraq.
"We have the best military in the world," he said. "We are going to have to support it more. I think we are doing the right thing. We just need to do everything we can to succeed down there because if our enemies think we're weak, then it will hurt our chances of success."
The dinner drew a number of local business people, politicians and activists in the community such as Joe Scarborough, former congressman and TV show host; attorney Jim Reeves; developer and retired banker Eric Nickelsen; Jim Cronley, co-owner of Terhaar & Cronley Property Co.; and Jeanne Godwin, who manages her own investment company.
"I think his integrity is admirable and outstanding," said Godwin, who described Thompson as a moderate. "The fact that he is willing to stand up for what is right goes a long way with most of the people in this area. I am thrilled he is here. And I think it's also significant that Congressman Jeff Miller supports him. That speaks very highly of him."