BOWLING GREEN - Fresh from starring as Ulysses Grant in the HBO film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Fred Thompson won an early audition for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination yesterday.
At the annual Lincoln-Hayes Banquet hosted by Ohio Congressman Paul Gillmor, the former Tennessee senator captured 32.5 percent of the 166 votes cast in a straw poll. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney tied for second in the poll with 18.1 percent. Arizona Sen. John McCain received 11.4 percent.
Mr. Thompson has yet to officially declare his candidacy. But as an actor who has appeared in blockbusters such as The Hunt for Red October, he does share a career with the man many Republicans really want for 2008.
"As I've traveled around northwest Ohio, this is what folks have told me: They would like to find Ronald Reagan again," State Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said. "It's tough. Ronald Reagan set the standard."
Yet a candidate is only one component of an election. The issues are another.
The banquet's keynote speaker, Rob Portman, director of the Office of Management and Budget for President Bush, said the Iraq war is not the defining issue for 2008.
The GOP lost its majorities in the Senate and House last year because the party strayed from its fundamental values of ethical behavior and fiscal conservatism, Mr. Portman said.
Unlike past banquets, this one came on the tail of a Republican defeat that Democrats want to build on next year in the presidential election.
Once a reliable red state that voted Republican, Ohio now has a Democratic governor and U.S. senator.
Mr. Gillmor, who hosted the event at Bowling Green State University's student union as the congressman for Ohio's Fifth District, delivered a serious warning to the party faithful with a joke: "To Democrats, Ohio should be as blue as Monica Lewinsky's famous dress."
If Republicans emphasize low taxes and reduced spending, voters will grow disenchanted with the Democrats' policies, which Mr. Portman called "classic tax-and-spend."
"As we get back to our core, what Republicans believe, it will be good for the country and the party," said Mr. Portman, a former Ohio congressman.
Mr. Portman then listed President Bush's stances on health care (tax breaks can provide a market-based way of insuring the entire population), education (hold school districts accountable for how they spend government money), and energy (fund alternative energy programs and use clean coal technology).
After the speech, Derek Merrin, a Waterville councilman, noted that Mr. Portman avoided the one subject energizing many Republicans: immigration.
Mr. Merrin said the Bush Administration has only completed two miles of the 800-mile wall meant to stop illegal immigrants from entering the country.
"They just insult the intelligence of the American people," Mr. Merrin said. "They say they're going to secure our borders and they never do."
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