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Thompson: I've had my mojo the whole time

  • Story Highlights
  • Fred Thompson is on a 15-day bus tour of Iowa
  • The former senator-turned actor was praised for performance in Iowa debate
  • Thompson declared his candidacy just three months ago
  • Thompson a distant third in most polls
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By Dana Bash
CNN
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DECORAH, Iowa (CNN) -- Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson is trying to become a GOP contender in record time.

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GOP hopeful Fred Thompson opened up about his campaign with CNN's Dana Bash.

"It's a little late in the process for me to be coy. I want you to know that I think I'm that man," he told an audience of more than 100 in Dubuque, Iowa.

Thompson just started a 15-day bus tour to 50-plus Iowa cities. He'll be in the state nearly every day until the January 3 caucuses.

To watch his campaign is to witness a candidate trying to shake the rap that he has no fire in his belly.

His red meat speeches are redder. His arguments for why he should be president are sharper.

"My friends, I've been there, and I can tell you we are just one successful terrorist plan away from a nuclear attack on this country," Thompson told Iowa voters. "All the experts know that it's the kind of world we live in. It's not the time for on-the-job training." Video Watch how Thompson is trying to step up his game »

He even makes a point of lingering with voters after speeches, instead of escaping out a back door -- a common criticism of Thompson.

Has he found his "mojo?"

"You know, I've probably to a fault felt like I've had my mojo the whole time," Thompson told CNN.

In an interview on his bus, Thompson, who declared his candidacy just three months ago, insisted he's been "working hard for several months now."

But in a moment of reflection, he said expectations may have been high because he is an actor.

"I think sometimes the media had the notion that because I'd been in the movie business that I'd be well-scripted, I'd be slick, that I'd be perfect. And it was a standard nobody else was held to, but I think I was held to it," Thompson told CNN.

Thompson has had some good news in Iowa lately. He was widely praised for a a stellar performance at last week's Des Moines Register debate. He even uses a key moment -- refusing to raise his hand in response to the moderator's question about global warming -- as a prime example of his leadership.

"I just asked my colleagues on the stage there, in effect, I said, 'Guys, how are you going to stand up to leaders of Iran and North Korea if you can't stand up to an overbearing moderator?' " Thompson tells crowds.

Thompson also snagged a key endorsement from Iowa Rep. Steve King, an influential Republican and vocal leader against illegal immigration.

But catching fire now will not be easy for a man still a distant third in most polls. Many of the frustrated conservatives whom Thompson was supposed to attract with his late entry have instead flocked to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or have stuck with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Thompson is banking on undecided and unsatisfied Iowa voters to give him a second chance.

Undecided voter Mike Demeroy went to hear Thompson speak last month in Dubuque, Iowa, because he liked his record, but says he left "disappointed."

"He was almost like, 'I deserve to be president, instead of convincing me he needed to be president,'" said Demeroy.

But he came back again for a second look, because other candidates didn't appeal to his wide range of conservative positions, from immigration to abortion.

"No one else has really captured my attention yet either," he said.

Thompson points to the history of the Iowa caucuses as proof his last ditch push is not a fool's errand.

"I was looking back at 1980, '88, '94 -- the experts were wrong in all those elections as far as Iowa was concerned." Thompson told CNN.

Thompson deflected a question about whether Huckabee, a conservative leading the polls, has stolen his thunder.

Yet he was primed and ready to go after the former preacher for suggesting in a recent article that the president suffers from an arrogant "bunker-mentality" foreign policy.

"I don't think Gov. Huckabee appreciates the kind of world that we live in," Thompson said. "I think he's under the impression if we're nicer and sweeter to the bad guys that maybe they'll love us. Unfortunately, that's not the case."

Thompson was quick to jump on commentary, like in Tuesday's Des Moines register, suggesting that he is a horse conservatives can ride.

"All I've got to say is, 'Saddle me up.' "

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And for the record, Thompson said there is one scenario in which he wouldn't refuse to raise his hand.

"I have no problem raising my hand as a general proposition when Chief Justice John Roberts asks me to raise my hand. I'll be glad to take the oath of office," Thompson said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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