From Kim Chipman at Yahoo News:
Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) — Republican presidential contender Fred Thompson, who has based his campaign on appealing to conservative voters, said he isn’t a regular churchgoer and doesn’t plan to speak about his religion on the stump.
Thompson, in his first campaign stop in South Carolina, told a crowd of about 500 Republicans yesterday that he gained his values from “sitting around the kitchen table” with his parents and “the good Church of Christ.”
Talking to reporters later, Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, said his church attendance “varies.”
“I attend church when I’m in Tennessee. I’m in McLean right now,” he said referring to the Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., where he lives. “I don’t attend regularly when I’m up there.”
Thompson said he usually attends church when visiting his mother in Tennessee and isn’t a member of any church in the Washington area.
Thompson’s remarks may not play well with religious voters who represent a sizable segment of the Republican Party and whose support he has been courting, portraying himself as a “common sense conservative.” President George W. Bush received 78 percent of the evangelical Christian vote in 2004 while Democrat John Kerry got 21 percent of that vote, according to the Pew Research Center.
Talking About God
Thompson’s comment about not speaking out about his personal religious beliefs prompted a question from the crowd on whether he would commit to talking about God nationwide, not just in a southern state such as South Carolina, where many people identify themselves as evangelical Christians.
“I know that I’m right with God and the people I love,” he said in Greenville. It’s “just the way I am not to talk about some of these things.”
Thompson’s churchgoing habits weren’t a problem for at least one onlooker.
“As long as he was acclimated in some kind of church, involved in the church, that’s very important,” said Jamie Darnell, 27, of Greenville.
Asked by reporters later to clarify his stance on religion, Thompson said: “Me getting up and talking about what a wonderful person I am and that sort of thing, I’m not comfortable with that, and I don’t think it does me any good. People will make up their own mind about that, and that’s the way I like it.”
Thompson, 65, who officially joined the race for the Republican presidential nomination last week has been campaigning the last five days in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where the crowds were among the largest and most enthusiastic of the trip.
He spoke at length about the need for a “stronger and more unified” country to withstand a global battle against radical Islamic terrorists who want to bring “western civilization, primarily the U.S., to its knees.”
Thompson said Iraq is just part of a broader war and that without the 2003 U.S. invasion, “there’s no question” that Saddam Hussein would have “nuclearized the Middle East.”
So far, Thompson hasn’t talked in detail about what U.S. foreign policy would look like should he be elected.
“I’d like him to get a little deeper into specifics,” said Pam Wolff, 61, of Greer, South Carolina. She said she hasn’t committed to any one candidate though is leaning toward Thompson.
`Draw People In’
Thompson “has the magnetism to draw people in, and I’m very impressed with that,” the self-described retired homemaker said after Thompson spoke in Greenville.
Two days ago — standing on the same City Hall steps in Nashua, New Hampshire, where John F. Kennedy declared his presidency 47 years ago — Thomson was asked how he would make funding of the Iraq war more transparent while also ensuring adequate money in the federal budget for maintaining the U.S. infrastructure.
The Aug. 1 collapse of a Minneapolis bridge that killed 13 people — the worst U.S. bridge failure in 25 years –“went down because things aren’t being paid attention to at home,” said Cindy Holden, 57, a nurse who asked the question.
In response, Thompson launched into an almost 10-minute answer focused on why it was necessary to overthrow Saddam Hussein. He didn’t mention infrastructure.
“I think he lost track of it because he wanted us to understand why he thought what we had done wasn’t so bad,” Wolff said, referring to Iraq.