WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Fred Thompson ended the suspense on Thursday and said he would formally launch his 2008 run for the White House next week with a webcast and a five-day tour of early voting states.
Thompson, 64, a former Tennessee senator and Hollywood actor, had delayed his announcement for months, keeping supporters on edge and raising questions about his enthusiasm and commitment to what could be a grueling presidential run.
But he said he was confident about his prospects and heartened by the response he received as he tested the waters for a presidential bid.
“I believe that there are millions of Americans who know that our security and prosperity are at risk if we don’t address the challenges of our time,” Thompson said in a statement.
The formal announcement will come in a webcast on September 6, followed by a tour of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. A second leg will hit Florida and wind up at home in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, on September 15.
Thompson’s candidacy has stirred intense grass-roots interest among Republicans, particularly conservatives dissatisfied with the rest of the Republican pack. Campaign officials held a conference call with supporters to inform them of Thompson’s plans.
Thompson began shooting into the first tier of national polls in May, before he even made a move toward entering the race. He took his first step toward running in June, when he established a committee in his home state of Tennessee.
“We enter this campaign in a strong position,” said campaign manager Bill Lacy. “Fred is consistently near the top in the polls, and conservatives across the country have put together the closest thing to a draft in recent presidential campaign history in an effort to bring about this day.”
But Thompson’s long-delayed formal entry had made some supporters anxious and sparked complaints he was violating Federal Election Commission laws by running a shadow campaign.
He also endured a spate of negative publicity, from reports about his background as a lobbyist to frequent staff turnover and questions about his slow fund-raising and the role of his second wife in his campaign.
Thompson has been billed as a social conservative in the mold of former President Ronald Reagan, filling a void for conservatives dubious about his leading Republican rivals, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Giuliani supports abortion rights and gay rights, while the sincerity of Romney’s late conversion to an abortion rights opponent has been questioned by some conservatives.
Lacy said Thompson would take his “mainstream conservative” message directly to voters with the webcast. Thompson has been active online, filing frequent blogs and videos.
He has broad name recognition from his years as the star of numerous Hollywood movies and the “Law and Order” television series. He served eight years in the Senate, but has little foreign policy experience on his resume.