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Thompson Hopes to Shake Up Presidential Race

After months of what he called "testing the waters," former U.S. Senator and actor Fred Thompson finally took the plunge into the presidential race the first week of September. Some critics say he waited too long as the other eight candidates for the 2008 Republican nomination scurried across key early primary states. But Thompson's supporters believe he can fire up Republican voters who, polls show, are lukewarm about his opponents.

As a veteran actor, Fred Dalton Thompson knows how to make an entrance. "We are where we need to be right now, and that is one of the things I want to talk to you about; I am running for president of the United States."

He chose to announce his candidacy Hollywood-style, on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", a popular late-night television talk show. The venue emphasized the very thing his rivals fear most -- Thompson's star-power.

The next day, the 65-year-old told voters in Iowa why he decided to run. "I am determined that we make the decisions that leave us a stronger nation, a more prosperous nation, and a more united nation and that is why I am running for the presidency of the United States."

The former senator and attorney from Tennessee made a smooth transition from Congress back to an acting career in 2002, when he joined the cast of NBC's crime series "Law and Order."

He made a career of playing tough but fair authority figures--aided by his two meters height and heavy brow.

Even before he officially got in the race, surveys showed Thompson towering over many of his rivals, coming in second only to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in national polls. Some political experts are asking if Thompson will rescue the Republican Party, pointing to dissatisfaction with other candidates.

John Fortier is an expert on presidential politics. "Especially when Rudy Giuliani and John McCain were the front-runners," he says, "Republicans were really looking around for somebody else--a more conservative candidate. They were hoping for Ronald Reagan to come back and he was not available, but they saw Fred Thompson as a possible figure in that regard."

Others have also drawn the comparison with late President Reagan. Larry Sabato directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "Thompson also has a Reaganesque quality about him because of his connection to Hollywood. Republicans always try to nominate Ronald Reagan, just like Democrats always try to nominate John F. Kennedy."

Thompson's southern drawl and conservative voting record are made to order for the Republican Party's important base of southern conservative voters. He is pro-gun rights and anti-abortion, and has made clear he wants the United States to do whatever it takes to prevail in Iraq.

But some experts point to flaws. There was turnover among his staff before he even announced, some said involving clashes with his wife Jeri -- herself a political consultant. So far, Thompson has had little success raising money, and many on the campaign trail say he does not always relish the rigors of political life -- as Larry Sabato points out. "With all due respect to Senator Thompson, he is not known as the most energetic politician around. Even some of his former staffers say he was relatively lazy as a member of the Senate.

Now that Thompson has taken his place on center stage, it is up to him to deliver the performance of a lifetime to try and win the 2008 nomination and a real-life role in the White House.

Video Courtesy: NBC "Tonight Show with Jay Leno", 20th Century Fox, Castle Rock Entertainment, Fox News Channel