Magazine article Newsweek

The Editor's Desk

Magazine article Newsweek

The Editor's Desk

Article excerpt

Byline: Jon Meacham

Howard Baker sensed it early. In 1966, after he became the first Republican senator from Tennessee since Reconstruction, he asked his aide Bill Hamby to keep an eye out for fresh talent for the nascent state GOP. By 1972, when Baker was running for re-election, Hamby had found someone to help the senator in Middle Tennessee: Fred D. Thompson, the son of a used-car salesman from tiny Lawrenceburg. "Fred was a tough young man," Baker said last Thursday from his law office in Huntsville, Tenn. "We were driving around, and I remember thinking, Hamby found a good one here."

Hamby had indeed. A surprising amount of political history gets made on long stretches of highway as aspiring young staffers or volunteers drive congressmen or senators from stop to stop. Politicians and their aides tend to bond in these hours of moving from barbecues to Rotary clubs to editorial-board meetings. When Thompson--lawyer, actor and former senator--announces his candidacy for president this week, he will, in a way, be completing a journey that began with Baker in the 1972 campaign. A journey of such epic scope would have been unthinkable if not for another car ride, this one in early 1973, when Thompson rode to the airport with Baker after a Tennessee Association of Accountants luncheon in Nashville. On the way, Baker asked whether Thompson would be interested in serving as minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. It was Thompson's first, but hardly his last, turn on the national stage.

Thirty-four years later, Thompson is about to audition for the biggest role of all and, as Holly Bailey reports in our cover story, he faces an intriguing challenge. One of his clearest assets, his laid-back persona, is also a potential liability, for he must make clear that his slower pace manifests serenity rather than laziness. …

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