Tommy Thompson walks into the conference room of the Super 8 off I-29 in Onawa, Iowa like a man astride the world.
As Wisconsin’s Favorite Governor™ bounds to the podium, his ear is trained to one of many cell phones he carries to keep track of his many real-world business interests. "OK, no. When that item comes to a vote, I’ll vote no, right? What? The majority of the board will support it? Yes, then. Certainly yes!" He flips the phone closed with the authority of a confident executive slamming the black dial phone into its cradle.
His volunteer advance man pulls him aside. "Listen, sorry about the turnout. We made all the calls and even promised cupcakes, but..." Thompson brushes him aside with the unworried look of a ship captain. "Relax, Skippy," he says. "This is fine, just fine."
After taking a swig of bottled water (oh, for the beer of the endless Wisconsin campaigns of yore...), the Man From Elroy steps up to the podium and takes his first good look at the banquet hall that will play host to the long-anticipated Hoffman-Meyers reception later this weekend. Looking up from his notes, he sees rows of empty seats and just one occupant in the front row, smiling, reporter’s notepad at the ready.
"Uh, hi there," he says sheepishly.
"Hi, Governor," says the reporter, with a gleeful, hey-he-knows-me tone. "How’s the campaign going?"
"Great. It’s going remarkably well. But this isn’t a press conference, so..." The reporter breaks out in peels of laughter. "Right, right," he says, still stifling the chuckles. "Go ahead, don’t mind me." More laughs.
"Well, we have a busy schedule, so I’ll get started," he announces to the otherwise empty room. "You know, this reminds me of the time when I bought an old Ford for my first campaign, so rusted out, you could see the road under the floorboards." The reporter scribbles furiously. "Back then, if I saw a wedding, I stopped in, kissed the bride and got in the picture."
"Really?" says the reporter, clearly inspired.
"Well, yeah," says Thompson. "I mean, we were all over the place and, sure, we’d see a crowd and we’d go in there..."
"No, but, really, you’d kiss the bride?"
"Well, depends on the bride."
More guffaws and scribbled notes. "Hey, do me a favor, will ya? Could you not write that down?"
"Gothcha, guv," says the reporter, with a sly smile. In the corner of the room, the C-Span cameramen roll their eyes.
Thompson continues, undaunted by the lack of attendance on an obviously busy Tuesday night in Monona County. He runs through his experience as a chief executive, cabinet secretary and, now, successful board-member-for-hire. Late in the speech, he finds hope in a older man in work clothes who stands in the back of the room, apparently paying rapt attention. After the speech, Thompson invites him up to get his picture taken with him. "No thanks," says the man. "Just waitin’ to clean up."
As he takes another drink of water and gathers his notes, Thompson winks knowingly at the reporter from the largest newspaper in his home state. "Runnin’ something on Sunday?" he asks. "Yes, sir, of course. Good luck, sir!"
It was to be at least the 38th article committed to the Thompson campaign by the Journal Sentinel; almost one article for each committed Thompson voter in Iowa – or anywhere, really. One wonders, for instance, if the Arkansas papers are going quite that ga-ga over the only-slightly more legitimate bid of their former governor, Mike Huckabee. With Thompson’s self-appointed run-in with reality in the form of the straw poll in a couple of days, the Journal Sentinel will have to find another way to work out its ludicrous Tommy obsession. Coming next week: What’s Next For Tommy?, featuring speculation about running for Senate, Governor, blah-de-blah-de-blah-blah.
This Sunday, Thompson appeared with other Republican candidates at a "debate" on ABC television. Thompson, who previously had to apologize for saying making money was a "Jewish tradition" and for supporting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, decided to play doctor. According to the J-S (and only the J-S bothered to report anything Thompson had to say in the televised cattle-call), Thompson promised "right now to end breast cancer by the year 2015 for all the women in America". Quite a claim. Does he know something we don’t know?
The fact is that the Tommy Thompson campaign had legitimacy in only one place in the world – on the pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The J-S’s fealty to all things Thompson is a mystery, and Thompson’s performance on the small, brief national stage was an unqualified embarrassment.