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Could Fred Thompson please the right?

Speculation rises over a possible run for president by the former Republican senator from Tennessee.

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In his first run for Senate more than a decade ago, the Republican lawyer and actor Fred Thompson charmed Tennessee voters with a good ol' boy persona and a deep Southern drawl. In work shirts and blue jeans, he crisscrossed the state in a red pickup, eating corn bread and fried chicken with ordinary voters and routing his starchy Democratic rival.

But the setting Friday night for his first speech since a flurry of Washington buzz about a possible Thompson presidential bid was no Tennessee porch front. The ballroom of the Balboa Bay Club & Resort here, where the audience of business executives dined on crab-encrusted sea bass and filet mignon, bordered a palm-fringed swimming pool and a Ferrari dealership. Here in the heart of Orange County, one of the country's wealthiest conservative enclaves, the reviews of Mr. Thompson's public debut as a semi-candidate were decidedly mixed.

Members of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, an influential conservative group that hosted the event, praised Thompson's plain-spoken style, his appeal to Southern voters, and his impeccable ideological credentials on issues like limited government, lower taxes, and border security. But several people said they were worried by his sedate delivery – where was the fire? one man asked – and a lack of specifics in his homespun critiques of Democrats and inside-the-beltway Washington.

"He needs to get more detailed," said Richard Wagner, a real estate developer and president of the Lincoln Club. "We need to find out if he can really become an ideological soulmate."

Since saying in April that he was considering a White House run and appearing on a carefully tailored list of conservative talk shows, Thompson has soared to third place in some polls of Republican voters, behind only former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The prospect of a Thompson candidacy has electrified former colleagues on Capitol Hill. Some 50 House Republicans trooped over to a social club across from the Capitol last month to goad him to run.


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