WASHINGTON (AP) - Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson on Sunday joined the crowded field of Republicans running for the White House in 2008 and proclaimed himself the "reliable conservative" in the race.
Thompson, who was health and human services secretary during President Bush's first term, also said he is the only GOP candidate who has helped assemble both a state and federal budget. Since announcing last year he was forming a presidential exploratory committee to raise money and gauge support, Thompson has lagged behind better-known rivals.
Thompson, 65, has focused his strategy on Iowa, which holds the nation's first caucuses for presidential nominees. He has made weekly visits to the state and sought to make the case that it will take a candidate who can carry the Midwest to win the nomination.
"Things are started to coalesce and I feel very, very optimistic about my future," Thompson said Sunday, despite his single-digit polling.
"I am the reliable conservative. My record shows that. All that people have to do is look at my record, and I am one individual that they can count on," Thompson said.
Discussing some campaign issues, he said:
-He would have "a completely different Iraq strategy" from the president's. Thompson said he would "demand" that the Iraqi government vote as to whether it wanted the U.S. to remain in the country. If the answer were yes, "it immediately gives a degree of legitimacy." If the answer were no, "We would get out, absolutely. It's a duly elected government."
-He would veto the war spending bills in Congress that have timelines for a U.S. exit from Iraq. "This is an invitation to continue the kind of civil war that's going on right now. I think
it's the worst mistake," Thompson said.
-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has made "terrible mistakes" in the handling of the fired federal prosecutors. "I would not have appointed Mr. Gonzales. I would have appointed
somebody that was loyal to me," Thompson said.
At a recent news conference in Wisconsin, Thompson called himself "the dark horse candidate. I was a dark horse candidate for governor. I was a dark horse candidate when I ran for the
Assembly. I am the underdog, and I don't mind that."
The son of a grocer, Thompson spent 14 years as governor of Wisconsin, pushing for an overhaul of the state's welfare laws. He also championed a school choice program for Milwaukee. His time in Bush's Cabinet included anthrax attacks, a flu vaccine shortage and passage of the Medicare prescription drug benefit law.
In 2006, he briefly flirted with the idea of running for governor but in the end decided not to seek his old job. He had considered running for president in 2000 but scrapped that, too,
deciding he lacked support.
The leading GOP candidates in the race include former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.