“Got Fred?,” read one poster in the Des Moines convention center, where Jody Halsted, 36, juggling a sippy cup and two toddlers, was ready to take the measure of the latest presidential candidate to sweep through the Iowa capital. “I want to know what he is like, what he has to say, as opposed to what you see him playing on TV.” For months Thompson, 65, the actor and former lawyer, lobbyist and U.S. Senator from Tennessee, has been a leading candidate for the GOP White House nomination without even trying. Now, after announcing Sept. 5 he’s in the race for real, Thompson has taken to the road aboard a bus equipped with a diaper-changing table (he has a 10-month-old son, Samuel, and a daughter, Hayden, 3, with his second wife, Jeri, 40, a former Republican Party staffer) that will carry him through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states that will hold their critical nominating contests early next year.
During stops at town halls, rural fairs and more than one Dairy Queen, he’ll talk about smaller government, tighter borders and less Federal spending. At 6’5″ he’ll have to stoop to pose with the citizens he meets, or to kiss their babies. But, as he confided in his gruff southern drawl to 400 supporters in Council Bluffs at the end of his first day of stumping and signing autographs, “if the good Lord is willing, we’ll be victorious.”