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The Gentleman from Tennessee

Senator Fred Thompson reinvents himself as a radio talk-show host following his unsuccessful presidential campaign.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Fred Thompson, March/April 2009

(continued from page 2)

"Well," Thompson offers, "you never know when you might want to start a fire." Back at their beautifully appointed brick colonial (on the same street where Colin Powell lives), Thompson, dressed in an oatmeal cable-knit sweater, powder-blue dress shirt, khakis and brown Hush Puppy brogans, strides through the foyer to a living room that shows evidence of small children recently at play. Thompson deflects a compliment about a lavishly decorated Christmas tree to his wife, then points to an equally bedecked spruce in the next room—and notes that there is a third one, just around the corner (as well as two mini-trees elsewhere in the house for their children, daughter Hayden, 5, and son Sammy, 2, to decorate).

"I believe," he says to her in mock astonishment, "that I found a room without a Christmas tree the other day."

Thompson, rangy and bearish at 6-foot-6, ambles into his den. Jeri attends to lighting his gas fireplace—with help from a handyman—as Thompson settles in behind his desk to chat.

The wood-paneled room is adorned with bookcases and framed photographs, as well as a small stack of Thompson's 1975 Watergate book, At That Point in Time. There's a door to a screened-in porch, which is where Thompson escapes to smoke cigars. But not today: the 30-degree temperature is too brisk for Thompson's liking.

As he snips the end off a rich-looking Ashton with a dark wrapper, Thompson gives the cigar a quick sniff, then happily sticks it unlit in his mouth: "I'm a chewer more than a smoker," he allows.

"Like I've done with everything else, I've learned about cigars by trial and error. You make enough mistakes and you learn what you like. The only way I know how to describe it is that I like strong, robust cigars, not too mild—cigars with a strong taste. Cigars that not only smoke good but taste good when I chew them."

He pauses, then adds with a smile, "Due to the kindness and generosity of certain of my friends, I've had good ones from the best soil. And those spoil you for anything else."

A reference to forbidden Cuban cigars? "I think cigars and politics should remain separate forever more," Thompson says. "Take from that what you will." When Thompson halted his presidential campaign in January 2008, he had an e-mail list of more than 300,000 "FredHeads." Most still turn to his Web site for the Fred Thompson Political Action Committee, for his words of wisdom; with luck, they'll form the instant core of his radio audience.

Thompson's presidential campaign ended with money in the bank from the thousands who contributed: "And the moral of that story," Thompson says, "is that I should have spent it."

When Thompson spoke at the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul in September, he was greeted with hosannas by delegates who came up to him and said, "Gosh, if we'd only known that was how you felt. If only you had said that earlier."

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