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Inside Politics

Schneider: Can Thompson play the role of Reagan?

Story Highlights

• Former senator and "Law & Order" actor considering presidential run
• Conservatives unhappy with current GOP field of candidates
• Like Reagan, Thompson viewed by backers as a conservative who can win
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With 10 Republicans already running for president, is it too late for former Sen. Fred Thompson to get into this race? Not if he brings something other candidates don't.

What would Thompson bring to the race? As an actor, he's well known. As a former senator, he's well connected.

"He is well known on a soft level, but in terms of the details about him, I think one of the challenges for him is he is going to have to flesh those out," Republican strategist David Winston said. (Read how Thompson took a step toward a presidential run Wednesday)

Republicans say they're looking for another Ronald Reagan -- meaning a conservative who's also a winner. Some Republican contenders, like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, look like winners but their conservative credentials are under challenge. Others, like Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, are staunch conservatives but it's not clear they have broad enough appeal to win.

Thompson is a conservative. "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.," Thompson said at the Reagan Library.

The anti-Washington theme can be heard in his criticism of immigration reform, which Thompson calls "amnesty with promises to do something about the border.''

"They don't get it,'' Thompson said, "that putting it on a piece of paper does not convince the American people any more that they will do what they say."

Thompson joined Sen. John McCain of Arizona in supporting campaign finance reform, an anti-Washington cause that was not popular with conservatives.

Thompson has been a senator, a lobbyist and a Washington lawyer going all the way back to Watergate, when he served as chief Republican counsel. But he runs as a Washington outsider. When he first ran for the Senate in 1994, Thompson wore a flannel shirt and drove a pick-up truck all over Tennessee, calling for term limits.

He still plays the role of outsider. To prove it, he got out: Thompson left the Senate in 2002. Good timing. Because that's when the Bush administration started to get in trouble.

Now, once again, Thompson is positioned to run against Washington. "I think the biggest problem that we have today is what I believe is the disconnect between Washington, D.C., and the people of the United States,'' Thompson said.

At a time when voters have lost confidence in the Administration and are desperate for change, an anti-Washington candidate could be very interesting. Especially a Republican.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson addresses the Lincoln Club in Orange County, California.

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