BIRTH DATE: Aug. 19, 1942
BORN: Sheffield, Ala.
EDUCATION: Memphis State University, B.S. (1964); Vanderbilt University, J.D. (1967)
FAMILY: Divorced; three children.
CURRENT JOB: Chairman, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
PREVIOUS JOBS: Assistant U.S. Attorney, 1969-1972; Minority Counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, 1973-1974; Actor; Lawyer
MILITARY SERVICE: None
Sen. Fred Thompson
A relative newcomer to the halls of Congress, Fred Thompson, the Republican senator from Tennessee, has quickly climbed the Senate ranks. This gruff, take-charge lawyer and actor has found himself as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in the 105th Congress after only two years in office and is now heading the investigation into alleged campaign fund-raising abuses within the Democratic Party, the 1996 Clinton campaign, and congressional campaigns.
Thompson was elected in 1994 to fill the seat vacated by Al Gore. He campaigned in a red pickup truck, wore work shirts and offered a down-home persona that connected with the working-class electorate of Tennessee. His image of a one-time worker in a bike factory and son of a used-car salesman enabled him to defeat his opponent, Congressman Jim Cooper.
Only a month after getting elected Thompson was asked by Bob Dole to give the Republican response to Clinton's "Middle Class Bill of Rights." After two years fighting for term limits and campaign finance reform, Thompson was elected to his first full term in 1996.
While he might be new to Congress, however, he is not a new face in politics. His first experience began more than two decades ago as chief Republican counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. It was there that Thompson asked the question that led to public disclosure of the infamous "Watergate tapes": "Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?"
Nor is he unaccustomed to the spotlight. Thompson has enjoyed a career as a an actor and appeared in 16 movies over the course of a decade. He has portrayed characters in such popular movies as "The Hunt for Red October," "Marie," and "In the Line of Fire."
During his time in the Senate, Thompson supported most of the Republicans' "Contract with America," but strayed from the GOP majority when he decided to support the McCain-Feingold bill that would change campaign finance laws. His philosophy, along with his reputation for being a take-charge leader, made him a prime choice by Republicans to head the wide-ranging campaign finance investigation.
In preparing for the Senate campaign finance hearings, Thompson ran into roadblocks from both sides of the aisle. He angered Democrats when he requested $6.5 million for the committee to conduct its hearings and irritated several Republicans when he expressed a desire to investigate congressional campaigns, possibly putting certain Republican congressmen at risk for fund-raising wrongdoing. In the end, the Senate approved a budget of $4.35 million and an extended investigation.
No one knows yet what the ultimate outcome of the Senate hearings will be, either on the nation's campaign finance laws or on Thompson. He has promised voters that he will not seek any more than two terms, so his time in the Senate is destined to be short but memorable. But as would-be candidates begin to position themselves for the 2000 presidential race, Thompson will be someone to watch.
Updated July 25, 1997
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