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Fred Thompson: Actor, Senator, and Now a Late Entry in the '08 Presidential Race

The former Tennessee senator and "Law & Order" star joins a group of Republicans with no clear favorite among them. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

This week, former United States senator Fred Thompson announced his candidacy for president. He joins eight others competing for the Republican Party nomination next year.

Fred Thompson arrived in Washington more than thirty years ago as a Senate committee lawyer for the Watergate investigation. He represented Tennessee in the Senate from nineteen ninety-four to two thousand three. He decided to return to a job where he was already well known: acting.

He has appeared in movies including "The Hunt for Red October." He played a New York City prosecutor for the past five seasons of the television show "Law and Order."

In fact, he has even played a president on TV. So it came as no surprise when he announced his candidacy as a guest on a late-night show. He made an official announcement in a Web video.

People thought Fred Thompson would enter the race months ago. He supports President Bush on the Iraq war and hopes to appeal to social conservatives. But he has had problems raising money and organizing a campaign.

So he is entering late -- too late, some say. Yet, in most public opinion studies, he was the second or third most popular choice for a Republican nominee. And that was before he declared his candidacy.

He joins a group without a clear favorite. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has been leading the Republican candidates nationally for months. But former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is leading in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Republicans and Democrats are getting ready for the nominating process to begin in January. Iowa and New Hampshire traditionally hold the first votes for delegates, so these two states are important early tests.

The election is not until November. But many states are moving their primary and caucus votes to early in the year. February fifth is going to be a big day. A shorter primary season will increase pressure on candidates, especially any late arrivals.

Now, a listener in China, Simon Yuan from Jiangsu province, asks about the requirements for an American president.

Presidents must be at least thirty-five years old and natural-born citizens of the United States. They must also have lived in the country for at least fourteen years. These requirements are in the Constitution.

Simon Yuan also asks how many presidents have been members of the Democratic Party. Of the forty-three presidents, fourteen have been Democrats. Eighteen have been Republicans. In the past, the Republicans were the more liberal party and the Democrats were the more conservative.

Presidents have also belonged to parties that no longer exist: The Federalists. The Whigs. The Democratic-Republican Party, and the Democratic/National Union. The first president, George Washington, belonged to no political party at all.

And that's IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. If you have a question about the American political process, we might be able to answer it on the air. Write to I'm Steve Ember.