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Thompson attracts state GOP

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Presidential campaign newcomer Fred Thompson is moving faster than any other candidate to attract well-known Alabama Republicans who want to be his delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Thompson’s delegates include one former John McCain supporter.

“He seems to be in touch with common folks. He’s down to earth,” said Rep. Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, who had been Madison County chairman for McCain.

The Alabama Republican Party opened qualifying last month for people who want to be elected delegates for a candidate at the party convention next September.

While it’s still early in the qualifying process, more people have signed up to be Thompson delegates than for all other candidates combined.

State Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said it was unplanned, but it’s significant.

“It is a measure of Thompson’s popularity in Alabama. He represents the Alabama philosophy more than any other candidate,” Waggoner said.

And what is “the Alabama philosophy”?

It’s pro-family, pro-business, pro-life and anti-higher taxes, the Thompson supporter said.

Direct ties

Thompson is the only Republican presidential candidate with direct Alabama ties.

He was born at a hospital in Sheffield, although he grew up across the state line in Tennessee, and he attended the University of North Alabama in Florence for a year.

Besides Waggoner and Ball, people who have signed up to run as Thompson delegates include: state Sens. Larry Dixon of Montgomery and Hank Erwin of Montevallo; state Reps. Jay Love and Greg Wren, both of Montgomery; and former state Republican Party Chairman Elbert Peters of Hunts-ville.

Alabama citizens will vote for delegates when they participate in the presidential preference primary on Feb. 5.

A Republican candidate will have to get 20 percent of the vote to win any convention delegates, but if one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, he gets all the delegates.

The Alabama Democratic Party plans to open qualifying for its delegates in October.

McCain, the Arizona senator who was considered the front-runner in Alabama at the start of the year, has had one person sign up to be a delegate.

Ball said he told McCain’s organization last November that he might leave if Thompson entered the race.

Ball isn’t the only one with second thoughts. Cam Ward, who’s still listed as co-chairman of McCain’s legislative campaign committee in Alabama, has signed up to run as an uncommitted delegate.

Ward said he took the unusual step because he wanted to let people know he plans to run as a delegate, and he will line up with either McCain or Thompson before qualifying ends in November.

“I’m still leaning toward McCain, but I want to make sure he’s still in the race,” Ward said.

Tough sell for Romney?

Ward said it’s easy to pinpoint what caused McCain’s early support in the state to wane: “The immigration stance really hurt him in Alabama.”

No one has signed up yet to be a delegate for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but a campaign official said that’s by design.

Montgomery attorney Will Sellers, counsel for Romney’s Alabama campaign, said no one will sign up before Romney pays his $5,000 qualifying fee to the Alabama Republican Party.

Once that is done, Sellers
expects State Treasurer Kay Ivey and two Alabama congressmen, Mike Rogers of Saks and Robert Aderholt of Haleyville, to sign up because they are leading Romney’s campaign in the state.

Dixon, who’s running as a Thompson delegate, said he had met all the leading Republican candidates and was trying to decide between Thompson and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani until he saw Thompson at an oyster bar in Perdido Key, Fla., on July 5.

People in the busy restaurant started lining up to meet Thompson, and Thompson won Dixon over by taking 45 minutes to shake each hand.

“This guy has charisma,” Dixon said.

Wide open race

State Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard said there are plenty of Alabama Republicans who like Thompson’s conservative views and his ties to the state, but he expects lots of people to sign up to be delegates for the other candidates before qualifying ends in November.

Hubbard, a state representative from Auburn, said the delegate race is different from any that he and most other Alabama Republicans have ever experienced.

Since the days of Ronald Reagan, there has been no risk in signing up to be a delegate because the likely party nominee was known early on or was an incumbent.

This time the race is wide open.

Hubbard said he’s grateful that his party position qualifies for an automatic seat at the convention in Minneapolis, and he won’t have to side with one of the candidates in Alabama’s primary Feb. 5.

“I don’t know who I’d choose if I had to choose,” he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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