http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/04/us/politics/04thompson.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin October 4, 2007 <nyt_headline version="1.0" type=" "> On Stump, Low-Key Thompson Stirs Few Sparks </nyt_headline> <nyt_byline version="1.0" type=" "> </nyt_byline>By ADAM NAGOURNEY <nyt_text> </nyt_text> NEVADA, Iowa, Oct. 3 — Twenty-four minutes after he began speaking in a small restaurant the other day, Fred D. Thompson brought his remarks to a close with a nod of his head and an expression of thanks to Iowans for allowing him to “give my thoughts about some things.” Then he stood face to face with a silent audience. “Can I have a round of applause?” Mr. Thompson said, drawing a rustle of clapping and some laughter. “Well, I had to drag that out of you,” he said. Mr. Thompson is a former United States senator, television actor and Watergate investigator. His entry into the presidential race was highly anticipated by many Republicans, who saw or hoped to see in him outsized political talent and a commitment to conservatism that would enliven a Republican field that many found lacking. But as Mr. Thompson campaigned across Iowa this week, he was something other than the dynamic presence that some in his party have been yearning for. Iowans saw a candidate who is subdued and sonorous, a laconic presence who spoke in soft monotone, threw few elbows and displayed little drive to distinguish himself from his opponents. Mr. Thompson told few jokes and, while an easygoing presence, did not appear to have much interest in the small talk that is a staple of retail campaigning. As he defined his candidacy, Mr. Thompson spoke in broad generalities about the conservative principles that he said had informed his political views — in particular, federalism and cutting government spending — and led him to run for president. In the process, he often lulled audiences into the kind of stillness that engulfed the room when he finished talking at the “Lunch with Fred Thompson” in Marshalltown. “On prosperity, I have a real novel approach, a real creative approach,” he said in Coralville the other night. “Let’s continue doing what works and quit doing what doesn’t work in this country. Tax cuts work.” Turning to what he said would be a second priority of a Thompson administration, he said, “High, high, high on our lists of concerns for anybody who would think about becoming president of the United States is the security of this nation.” For Mr. Thompson, this is the start of a second and arguably critical chapter of his campaign after a much-delayed — and in the view of many Republicans, inauspicious — announcement tour in which Mr. Thompson seemed unversed on the kind of issues that routinely confront presidential candidates. Although he continues to do well in national polls, he did not show any particular strength in fund-raising in his campaign’s opening months, and he has done little to alter the basic dynamic of the Republican race. Still, that race remains remarkably fluid, and on this trip Mr. Thompson showed some signs of developing as a candidate. For the last several days, he has been vigorously attacking Democrats for trying to increase government spending and defending President Bush’s veto of a proposed expansion of the Child Health Insurance Program. Voters who came out to see Mr. Thompson as he traveled through Iowa, even while expressing admiration for his views and intense interest in his candidacy, said they were struck by how little energy or passion he appeared to bring into a room. “I hope his campaign strategy works for him, but I’m not sure it will,” said Kay Odell, a retired child-abuse worker, who talked to Mr. Thompson as he campaigned at a coffee shop in Iowa Falls. “He comes across as very low-key.” She added, “I’m sure he’ll make a good president.” At a late-afternoon rally in Cedar Falls, Beverly Denney said she admired what he said and was likely to support him, but suggested that he had been outshone on the podium by local Iowa legislators who had introduced him. “I’m sure this is his fourth event of the day,” she said. (It was, but one of them was a “walking tour of Downtown Iowa Falls” that took him to two stores and lasted less than 15 minutes.) If Mr. Thompson was subdued on the stump, he was more animated in an interview as he discussed some of the criticism of his early campaign effort. He bristled at the notion that his campaign had had anything but a strong beginning, And he suggested he was being held to a different and tougher standard by “the pundits” than his opponents because, he said, he was defying the rules by getting in so late. “That’s what happens when you go against the grain and test a new theory out,” he said. “Some may be vested in the notion that you can’t get in this late, that I’m trying to just say, ‘Well, they’ve seen me on “Law & Order” and that will carry me to the presidency.’ They just don’t think that is right.” “I played the hand that I dealt myself, and there are a lot of advantages to that,” he said. “If you look at any of the objective criteria — and I know that people seem to hold me to a somewhat different standard in some respects — but in terms of real people, in terms of polls and money and things like that, it hasn’t hurt me politically.” Still, Mr. Thompson at times seems to be looking for his sea legs. In an interview with Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa on Wednesday, in talking about Iran, he referred to the “Soviet Union and China.” (Ms. Henderson, at the end of her blog post on the exchange, wrote: “No, I did not mistype. Thompson said Soviet Union rather than Russia.”) On the first day of his visit here, he attacked the Medicare prescription drug plan signed into law by Mr. Bush in 2003 as too costly. That bill was “written and championed by Iowa’s popular Republican Senator Charles Grassley,” as was tartly noted in a front-page story in The Des Moines Register, referring to the senator who all the Republican presidential candidates are assiduously courting for an endorsement. Mr. Thompson, who had been faulted on his last trip for keeping a relatively leisurely schedule, stepped up the pace this time. Wherever he went, he towered over the crowd, wearing a wrinkled jacket with the top two buttons of his shirt unfastened. After his events, he tended to stay for only a few minutes to sign some autographs or pose for some pictures. Mr. Thompson does not appear to share the taste of his some of his rivals for lingering at the rope line shaking hands; he tends not to ask many questions of the people he meets and tends not to make prolonged eye contact with them. Mr. Thompson said that perceived stumbles by him, like appearing not to know anything on a visit to Florida about a dispute over oil drilling in the Everglades, had been seized upon by rival campaigns who had begun coming after him before he even got into the race. Not, he was quick to add, that he had a problem with that. “As I like to say, it’s not my first rodeo,” he said.