Andrew Dys

For a politician, he sure seems like one of us

FORT MILL -- A campaign event in a bar, in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday -- Fred Thompson seemed like my kind of guy.

And after he spoke at Beef 'O' Brady's in Fort Mill -- which is technically a restaurant, but any place with eight beers on tap and ashtrays on the bar is a bar -- many of about 150 people who packed the place said Fred Thompson is their kind of guy, too.

Especially guys like Ed Egan. From between Rock Hill and York, 63 years old, Marine Corps helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Egan staked out his spot at the bar more than an hour before Thompson showed up.

And when Thompson walked in, after two ladies at least in their 40s kneeled on barstools for a better look across the room at Thompson, Egan did what Marine helicopter pilots should do. In the suit he put on just for the occasion, complete with American flag tie, he jumped up on the bar and sat.

"Best viewpoint in the place," he said. "I haven't had a drink in 19 years, so it's at least that long since I sat on a bar."

Then, Thompson started to speak, talking like the tough son of a gun who made his fame playing tough sons of guns on TV and in movies. Tall. Lined face. Talking in Southern speak and homespun tough-talk just like the audience uses. Making no apologies for being a conservative former senator from Tennessee in a bar that sits in Baxter Village -- smack in the middle of the most conservative voting district in South Carolina.

York County Republican Party Chairman Glenn McCall told the crowd, "We love consistent conservatives in York County." Thompson is, McCall said, "100 percent pro-life."

Applause.

"Pro second-amendment" More applause. This was a crowd that wants its guns left alone.

"Pro-family." I don't think I have ever heard of a candidate who is anti-family, but there was plenty of applause for the pro-family line, too.

Thompson has been chided for being a less than engaging candidate, but that's exactly what the crowd Tuesday loved about him and heard from him.

About where he was Tuesday: "South Carolina, I consider it my neck of the woods."

About himself: "Fred is Fred; he may not be everybody's cup of tea, but that's it."

About opposing "amnesty" for illegal immigrants that was first enacted in part in the 1980s: "They tried to sell the same horse twice to the American people."

About why he was offered a movie role to play himself: "They wanted somebody who looked mean and works cheap, and they called on me."

Thompson even cracked a few smiles. Before the speech, I told two ladies who had been there for two hours milking a lunch of one order of chicken wings and drink refills to keep their choice booth that the main reason I was there was to see if Thompson, who plays a scowler all the time, could laugh. Ol' Fred can laugh when the campaign event is packed with supporters, that I can tell you.

Egan the Marine said after Thompson's speech his decision was more solid to back Thompson.

"Thompson deciding to run is another form of service," Egan said. "He's running because it needs to be done."

Thompson leads in polls in South Carolina because he talks the language of the people he's trying to reach for the January primary. Stay tough against the world, "don't tread on me" kind of talk.

Meagan Weeks the waitress didn't say she was swayed one way or another, but she did say she made more than double the tips she normally would on a Tuesday afternoon.

"OK by me," she said. Tips are tough to argue with.

Ann McKinness was there with her son, Nick, age 7 1/2. Nick, who got to get out of school early to go.

"I told the school it was an educational event, and if meeting the guy who might be the next president isn't educational, I don't know what is," McKinness said later.

She said Thompson looks like a president should look.

"Like a statesman, a grandfather," she said.

And after hearing Thompson, she said he talks like a president.

"Do I agree 100 percent with him? No, but I was able to hear him myself," she said.

And little Nick got his picture taken with Fred Thompson, who looks like a president and has played one in the movies. Of course on Tuesday, Thompson was surrounded by people who support him. And in that picture, taken Tuesday in Fort Mill, Fred Thompson is smiling from ear to ear.

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