the candidate billing himself as the most consistent
conservative in the crowded Republican field, has won the
presidential endorsement of the National Right to Life
Committee, GOP officials said Monday.
The nod by the
prominent anti-abortion group could boost the former
Tennessee senator's lackluster campaign. He has seen his
poll numbers drop in recent weeks in Iowa and
elsewhere as he has failed to become the consensus
candidate of restive social conservatives still searching
for someone to embrace.
''It speaks for
itself,'' an upbeat Thompson told reporters while
campaigning in Indianola, Iowa -- even as he talked in
hypothetical terms and declined to confirm the
endorsement. ''These are people who supported me in
times past. I think it would be a perfectly natural thing
to happen. I've had a 100% pro-life voting record in the
United States Senate. And I think they know that, and
that's the way I would govern if I was president.''
Republicans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because
the formal endorsement is scheduled for Tuesday,
disclosed the group's decision.
The support comes
after a span in which Thompson watched GOP competitors
wrap up endorsements from prominent conservatives: Rudy
Giuliani from Pat Robertson, Mitt Romney from Paul
Weyrich, John McCain from Sen. Sam Brownback, and Mike
Huckabee from Donald Wildmon.
At the same time,
Thompson has seen his support slide in some of the
first states to hold contests, most notably Iowa, New
Hampshire and Florida.
On Monday he
shrugged off polls, particularly in Iowa. ''I don't think
the poll numbers are low. I think that we're doing fine,''
Thompson told reporters, even as he acknowledged: ''I
haven't been here as often as some.''
He said he was
optimistic. ''I know that things can change in a short
period of time in Iowa. It has in the past,'' Thompson said.
''I'm not going to concede first place to anybody.''
Oskaloosa, Thompson took an unnamed swipe at Giuliani, an
abortion-rights backer who insists he will support judges
who interpret the Constitution narrowly. Thompson told
a crowded coffeehouse: ''I will never have to stand
before you and say, well, I believe this way but I
promise you that I'll appoint judges that disagree with me.
That don't make any sense to me. Thought I heard that
from a candidate the other day.''
He drew an
enthusiastic response from his audience when he praised the
U.S. health care system and said: ''Let's not let the
federal government mess that up.'' The crowd also
applauded when he brought up same-sex marriage and
said: ''Whether marriage is between a man and a woman -- I
thought that was decided a few thousand years ago!''
At one point,
Melanie Wooten of University Park, Iowa, shouted,
''Senator, I remember you from the Nixon days!'' A clearly
amused Thompson -- minority counsel during the
Watergate hearings -- threw his arms over his head and
drew laughter when he said, ''I'm innocent!''
Right to Life endorsement, Thompson noted that he's
received the group's support in the past and explained their
rationale back then. ''They said I fulfilled the
commitment that I made in terms of pro-life issues.''
''I was pro-life
on every, every vote,'' he added. ''I assure you, what
I'm saying today is what I said in 1994, 1996.''
While he boasts a
solid Senate voting record against abortion, Thompson
has faced criticism from some conservatives for what they
consider conflicting past positions.
He has taken heat
for his past work as a lobbyist for a family planning
group that wanted to relax an abortion rule and has been
criticized for a candidate questionnaire from his 1994
race that indicated he backed abortion rights in the
first trimester. Right to Life, the country's largest
anti-abortion group, awarded him a perfect rating at one
point in the 1990s but the group gave him a
less-than-perfect score in subsequent years.
Last week he
rankled social conservatives when he said that while ''life
begins at conception,'' he doesn't support a federal
constitutional amendment banning abortion.
whether he would support a state whose citizens through the
Legislature chose to permit abortion, Thompson said:
''Sometimes states have a right to do the things that
even Fred Thompson disagrees with.''
critics, saying: ''What I have concentrated on is a way to
get to the same goal that's achievable.... I think the
answer is to get better judges and to appoint people
to the Supreme Court, and hopefully someday Roe v.
Wade will be overturned. That's my goal. That's my
Thompson said the
country must return to the days before the Supreme
Court legalized abortion with that ruling, which he called
''bad law and bad medicine.'' (Liz Sidoti, AP)