Presidential candidate Fred Thompson, speaking to reporters after headlining a pair of fundraisers in Phoenix on Thursday, reinforced and elaborated on key themes he outlined during a Republican debate in St. Petersburg, Fla., the night before.
Thompson said employers should tighten their hiring practices to help reduce illegal immigration, and that local police departments should help enforce federal immigration law.
He also defended his campaign’s new aggressive 30-second television commercial, an ad that was prepared for the CNN/YouTube debate Wednesday night. The commercial takes swipes at Mitt Romney for changing his position on abortion rights, and at Mike Huckabee for supporting tax increases.
National political commentators called the TV spot the first negative ad of the 2008 Republican presidential primary campaign. Thompson said the strategy behind the ad was simply to make voters aware of Romney’s and Huckabee’s changing positions.
Overall, Thompson’s campaign stop in Arizona lasted about two hours. After speaking to supporters at the Phoenix Airport Marriott, he continued on to California.
The candidate, who appeared more trim in person than he did during his acting stint on the TV program “Law & Order,” spoke about immigration in response to a question about Arizona’s pending employers’ sanctions law.
The law states that employers must use the federal E-Verify system by Jan. 1 to check the employment eligibility of new hires. Employers risk losing their business licenses if they are caught knowingly hiring illegal workers.
Thompson said he was unfamiliar with the details of Arizona’s law, but he endorsed the concept.
“If we don’t have the cooperation of employers, then we’re not going to get the job done. We have got to secure the borders. We’ve got to enforce the law,” he said.
“We’ve got to help employers make sure that they’re not unjustly accused or treated when they’re doing their best. But we have a system now called the E-Verify system that will allow employers pretty readily to determine the legality of someone they’re hiring,” Thompson said.
The former senator from Tennessee said that when he held public office, the Senate passed a measure to ban federally funded colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants, and legislation to ban provisions that create “sanctuary cities.”
The term “sanctuary cities” generally is used to describe municipalities that have policies that forbid city employees, including police, from reporting illegal immigrants to federal authorities.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported in 2005 that 32 cities and counties, including New York, have sanctuary policies.
Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani argued during Wednesday’s debate about New York’s status as a sanctuary city. Thompson took up the topic anew Thursday.
“I discovered last night that New York apparently never was a sanctuary city. I think everybody for all these years thought it was,” he said.
“Rudy went to court when we passed that law outlawing sanctuary cities. He went to court to try to stop the law. And fortunately, he lost the lawsuit, so it’s still against the law, but we still have them. So we are shooting ourselves in the foot if we think we can control the border while at the same time encourage people to come in illegally,” he said.
Speaking about his television commercial, Thompson said the strategy was to show that Romney previously supported the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion, and that Huckabee previously backed certain tax increases. It included video clips from when they served as governors of Massachusetts and Arkansas, respectively.
“I just wanted to point out what these gentlemen have been saying all their political careers — up until they decided to run for president. They had the opportunity to comment as to how and to what extent and when they changed their minds about all these issues,” Thompson said.
Thompson, the last major Republican candidate to enter the presidential race, criticized his GOP rivals even further Thursday.
“It’s not just the issues that we talked about last night. With regard to some of them, it’s just about every major issue that comes out of the pipe,” he said. “Most of the leading candidates, it seems like, have a different view now than they had, you know, like a year or two years ago. That’s fine, if you change your mind. But the question really is: Where will a leader be over the next few years?”
After the news conference, as Thompson climbed into a black SUV to be shuttled back to the airport, a reporter shouted a parting question: What did he think of the writers’ strike in Hollywood?
“As you can see, my material’s gone downhill,” he responded.
Thompson made good use of his short time in the Valley, speaking at back-to-back fundraisers at the airport hotel. The first event was a high-dollar affair to benefit his campaign.
The second was a $150-a-ticket luncheon for the Arizona Republican Party. More than 160 people attended the second fundraiser, said state party executive director Sean McCaffrey.
However, many of those in attendance got in with discounted tickets, which affected the bottom line.
“It was a political Hallmark moment,” he said.