WASHINGTON – Fred Thompson plays a district attorney on TV and, in real life, a commentator on the Internet — two roles that give him plenty of visibility for a presidential bid.
In recent weeks, the former Tennessee senator, who is considering a run for the Republican nomination, has used conservative Web sites to opine about tax cuts, the Virginia Tech shootings, even the NFL draft.
"Whenever I've seen one of those 'Gun-free Zone' signs," Thompson mused at National Review Online, "I've always wondered exactly who these signs are directed at. Obviously, they don't mean much to the sort of man who murdered 32 people just a few days ago."
The actor-politician had experimented with blogging, posting two- and three-sentence thoughts on the Web site for ABC News Radio, for whom he is a host and commentator.
But not until several weeks ago, after declaring an interest in the presidency, did he start weighing in in earnest.
Now his opinion columns are appearing on RedState.com, the Pajamas Media blog, National Review Online and his own blog, The Fred Thompson Report. Several other conservative Web sites have picked up the commentaries.
Thompson's online activity helps create a buzz about him as he weighs a White House campaign, said GOP strategist David Winston.
"It gets distribution amongst key audiences — conservatives, the media, people interested in politics," Winston said. "People hear about an interesting idea, and it just spreads; people tell other people."
He drew a comparison to the way Democrat Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record)'s profile soared after he started running for president. The freshman senator's MySpace page has amassed 160,000 friends since Los Angeles paralegal Joe Anthony created it. The Obama campaign took over the page on the social networking site from Anthony earlier this week.
Thompson, 64, needs an online presence if he wants to run, said Keith Appell, a GOP strategist and consultant for Pajamas Media.
"The blogosphere and the Internet are truly transforming the campaign. It's making that kind of outreach a necessity, whereas before, candidates could take it or leave it," Appell said.
"In 2004, Howard Dean almost financed his whole campaign over the Internet," he said. "It's only going to continue to change the way politics is done."
In polls, Thompson does well for someone who isn't even running, vying with candidate Mitt Romney and potential candidate Newt Gingrich for third in recent surveys. Thompson already is known to millions of television viewers as gruff district attorney Arthur Branch on NBC's long-running drama "Law & Order."
His blogging is yet another indication that Thompson is serious about running. Another is his public admission last month that he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. Thompson said he is in remission and never felt ill.
The former senator from Tennessee also is making high-profile appearances. He was to speak Friday to the Lincoln Club of Orange County, Calif.
In his online commentaries, Thompson keeps mostly to conservative themes. A sampling:
_After Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in remarks directed at the U.S.-led military offensive in his country, said civilian deaths no longer were acceptable:
"The next time I'm reminded of the suffering women endure in too many radicalized Muslim cultures, or apathy toward their plight back here at home, I'm going to conjure up the image of 40,000 or 50,000 Muslim mothers smiling into the faces of healthy babies. You might try the same — and remember, while you're doing it, that these babies would not be alive today if it were not for the U.S. and coalition soldiers."
_On tax cuts:
"In fact, Treasury statistics show that tax revenues have soared and the budget deficit has been shrinking faster than even the optimists projected. Since the first tax cuts were passed, when I was in the Senate, the budget deficit has been cut in half."
_And on the NFL draft:
"Why do these teams keep drafting players with character defects you can see at 100 yards in the dark with your back turned?"