Some 250 boosters of Fred Thompson's undeclared candidacy for president chanted "Fred! Fred! Fred!" this morning as the former senator/actor unfolded his six-foot-five frame from a small private jet in Nashville.
Accompanied by wife Jeri Kehn Thompson and their two small children, Thompson delivered brief remarks at the general-aviation Mercury Air Center.
"This is an important time in our lives and an important time in our country," Thompson told the assembled throng. "As you know, we may be taking some steps toward doing something about it." That line prompted enthusiastic applause.
"I have always been there for you, and you've always been there for me," he said, prompting further cheers. "I'm here testing the waters," he added, "and the waters look pretty warm here in Tennessee."
Among those seen in Thompson's entourage was Tom Collamore, who has been described as Thompson's "campaign manager-in-waiting ."
Republican notables including Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and state GOP chairman Bob Davis were among those at the hangar welcoming Thompson back to the city where he practiced law for many years.
"I am excited about a Thompson candidacy," Ramsey said. He predicted that the local hero's presence on the national ticket in 2008 would "help the Republicans get a majority" in the State House and Senate, both of which are narrowly divided between Republicans and Democrats at present.
"He is the one conservative candidate," the lieutenant governor said of Thompson.
The media gaggle at the hangar included cameras and reporters from MS-NBC, ABC and London's Guardian newspaper, as well as representatives from local news outlets. But Thompson was not going out of his way to feed the media beast.
"Fred is just meeting old friends today," Davis said. "He's not meeting with the press, because he's not a candidate." When asked whether the "old friends" are fund-raisers, legal advisers or other campaign operatives, Davis declined to comment.
This evening, music executive and former California Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb will host a $2,300-per-person fund-raiser for Thompson at his Hillsboro Road home. Joining Curb as hosts are Knoxville oil company executive Jim Haslam, Brentwood contractor Ray Bell and former U.S. Ambassador to France Joe M. Rodgers. Tomorrow, Thompson goes on to Columbia, South Carolina for a luncheon.
Thompson exited the hangar with the crowd yelling, "Run, Fred run!" He was headed for a meeting at the Fall School building on 8th Ave., a possible campaign office site.