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On the July 8 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, during a discussion of the 2008 presidential race, National Public Radio national correspondent Mara Liasson asserted that former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) "could definitely" run for president as a populist candidate. Liasson added that "that's how he ran before" and said he could wear "his plaid shirt and get into the pickup truck again" -- referring to the red truck he drove during his 1994 and 1996 Senate races. However, Liasson did not mention that Thompson's truck was nothing more than a campaign prop leased by his staff for the purpose of winning over Tennessee voters, as Media Matters for America has noted.
Indeed, a March 18 article in The (Nashville) Tennessean described Tom Ingram, who worked on Thompson's campaign, as "the political mastermind who had a hand in revamping Thompson's image by putting him behind the wheel of the truck." The Tennessean reported that "on Aug. 5, 1994" -- just three months prior to a special election for the Senate seat Al Gore had vacated following his election as vice president -- "Senate candidate Fred Thompson parked his black Lincoln Continental and started driving" the truck. The article further reported that the truck was leased by the campaign. While Thompson purchased the truck after the campaign, the Tennessean article quoted Thompson as saying, through a spokesman, that he doesn't drive it, and that it is "parked in my mother's driveway in Franklin, with expired U.S. Senate license plates on it, looking a little forlorn, but I have not had the heart to sell her."
Liasson's comment came after Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol asserted that, in a hypothetical 2008 presidential election match-up between Thompson and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), "Thompson will be the more populist candidate."
As Media Matters has documented, some media figures have cited the pickup truck while characterizing Thompson as an "anti-Washington populist." However, there is substantial evidence undermining that image of Thompson. For instance, prior to his election to the U.S. Senate, Thompson spent 18 years as a Washington lobbyist, during which he reportedly represented a company facing billions of dollars in asbestos claims. An article in the April 30 edition of New York Magazine reported that "[c]ritics point out that Thompson's aw-shucks, shit-kicker populism is more than a little bit phony" because "he spent eighteen years as a registered Washington lobbyist, doing the bidding of such high-powered clients as General Electric and Westinghouse, pushing for the passage of the deregulatory legislation that led to the savings-and-loan crisis of the eighties."
From the July 8 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
HUME: There's a poll from Rasmussen this week, Rasmussen Reports poll, which shows that the leading candidate among the Republicans is Fred -- and that ain't Tommy Thompson, folks, that's Fred Thompson -- and he, by some statistically insignificant margin, is now ahead of all the rest of the field. Bill, does that show strength or weakness in the Republican field? Some would say it shows weakness when the guy who hasn't declared is leading.
KRISTOL: I think it's a strong field, and, look, the Democrats will have more money, and they can be the party of the rich, the plutocrats, Hollywood, Beverly Hills.
Actually, Fred Thompson against Hillary Clinton, Fred Thompson will be the more populist candidate.
LIASSON: Oh he could, definitely. Look -- and that's how he -- that's how he ran before. Put on red -- his flannel shirt, or whatever it is, his plaid shirt and get into the pickup truck again.
Look, there's no doubt the Democrats are more energized and they're happier with their field. I mean, they are energized, optimistic, and happy with their choices. Republicans are just the opposite. They're demoralized and pessimistic about 2008. That doesn't mean they're going to lose.