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Republican Voters Intrigued by Fred Thompson

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

NPR's Ina Jaffe was there.

INA JAFFE: Unidentified Man: Will you please give a warm Orange County and Lincoln Club welcome to Senator Fred Thompson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND APPLAUSE)

JAFFE: Last night's speech was casual, low-key and stuck to traditional broad Republican themes. For instance, Democrats who want to raise taxes.

FRED THOMPSON: That's their solution. And we have to defend the sound policies that have worked for us so often and so consistently in this country. You wouldn't think you'd have to make the lower tax case again. But you have to make it every day in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAFFE: Then there's what America can teach other nations about freedom and prosperity.

THOMPSON: We need to promote things like the rule of law, market economies and free trade. Any country who has ever tried that has prospered. Any (unintelligible) country that hasn't has not.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

JAFFE: And Thompson took the long view in discussing America's role in this post-9/11 world.

THOMPSON: Hopefully, the people and the forces of civilization realize if they're fighting against the forces of nihilism and destruction and darkness, who is going to need to stand firm and stand strong and stand united if it's not the United States of America.

JAFFE: Every Lincoln Club member we spoke to had a similar reaction to Thompson's speech.

CHIP HANLON: For a guy who's not sure whether he's running, it sounds a lot like he's running.

JAFFE: Chip Hanlon said he's uncommitted to any candidate right now. But he understood Thompson's appeal.

HANLON: You know, having more than a few Republican friends and there are those that are a little hungry for someone who's more traditionally conservative across the board, right? So I think there's certainly an opportunity there for someone like Fred Thompson. How big is that opportunity, we'll see.

JAFFE: Two recent polls show Thompson in second place, just a few points behind frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani. And surprisingly, both polls show Thompson taking more votes away from Giuliani than from more conservative candidates, like former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or Senator John McCain. There was no one we spoke to who didn't want Thompson to run.

KAREN LUGO: It would be exciting. It absolutely would.

JAFFE: Said Lincoln Club member Karen Lugo. She not only liked his speech, she liked his undeniable central casting qualities - the broad-shouldered, six-foot-six frame, the voice like rolling thunder.

LUGO: I could see someone tonight that would, like President Reagan, look Gorbachev in the eye and say, this is the line, don't cross it. I really felt tonight that he's the kind of individual that could do that.

JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Newport Beach, California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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