Thompson steals the show

A Giuliani-fueled fundraising dinner takes a turn.

By JOHN FRANK, Times Staff Writer
Published September 15, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Rudy Giuliani's top man in Florida sold out Friday's GOP dinner, but it was White House hopeful Fred Thompson who stole the show.

Stopping in his sixth city on a statewide tour Friday, Thompson struck a bold tone in highlighting his leadership abilities before the eager Pasco Republican crowd at Spartan Manor.

"I live in a nation that shed more blood for the freedom and liberty of other people than all the other nations combined," Thompson said. "I am tired of people feeling that we need to apologize."

Earlier in the day, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee told a crowd in Cape Coral that drilling for oil in the eastern Gulf of Mexico could be necessary.

"We've got to use all the resources that are available to us," he said, standing a few hundred yards from the coast. "We've got to get it in an environmentally safe matter, we've got to be respectful and inclusive of the people that are most involved in the area, but I would not rule out our gulf areas in terms of that, if we have resources there."

At the Pasco event, he stuck to the popular themes that fit well with the fourth annual Reagan Day Dinner, which included a firearms auction to raise money for gun programs.

Still, Pasco GOP chairman Bill Bunting reminded the crowd that keynote speaker Bill McCollum, the state's attorney general, attracted the crowd well before Thompson announced he would join the party fundraiser.

McCollum is leading the Florida presidential campaign for Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is considered the main competition to Thompson's candidacy.

Thompson's supporters are confident they will come out on top. Randy Maggard, a Dade City GOP activist, expects it to come down to those two candidates.

"Fred is way closer in line with Reagan than Rudy ever thought to be," he said. "He's true to the base of our conservative ideas and he's the only one out there."

In Pasco County, Property Appraiser Mike Wells and Zephyrhills City Council member Danny Burgess are supporting Thompson. Bunting has all but endorsed him.

The event included all the typical political fanfare: red, white and blue banners, stump speeches, elected politicians gladhanding.

Look no further than the silent auction table for proof: You know you're at a political event when a $30 "rare" White House Christmas plate has more bids than a Buccaneers Joey Galloway signed photo.

But it was the 2008 race for the White House that dominated the event from the start. If the silent auction bid table acts as a miniature, unofficial straw poll of support, Thompson should feel good. A signed photo of the former Law & Order television star attracted three bids.

A Giuliani-autographed baseball had one taker, while a sheet advertising a signed photo of John McCain remained blank.

Staff Writer Adam Smith contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.