Tommy Thompson, in a new WisPolitics.com interview, says he's going "for broke'' to get first or second in the GOP straw poll in Ames, Iowa next weekend and that Rudy Giuliani and John McCain aren't participating because "they knew they were going to get beaten.''
Thompson also says the only candidate who's nearly as experienced as him to be president is Bill Richardson on the Dem side.
But he predicts Hillary Clinton will win the Dem nomination and that Minnesota and Wisconsin will likely be the states that decide a close general election.
And while he served in George W. Bush's cabinet, describing it as "insular,'' he says Bush's father "will go down in history as doing a better job.''
WisPolitics Milwaukee Bureau Chief David Wise joined the former Wisconsin governor in Iowa last weekend as he completed the third leg of his tour to fulfill his promise to visit all of the state's 99 counties in advance of the Aug. 11 Ames Straw Poll.
THOMPSON INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS: The spat with Tancredo and other Tommy stories
Selected highlights of the July 29 interview are below.
WisPolitics.com: You've been putting a lot of time and energy into Iowa. How confident are you that your efforts are going to pay off, and what would it mean for you campaign however you place in the straw poll?
Thompson: I have to come in first or second. ... Iowa is a strange state as it relates to responding to people who work hard in their state. Nobody's working as hard as I am. ... I don't have the money, as everyone knows, so it's strictly organization and hard work. I'm the only candidate that's going to all of the counties. I've been to 87, out of 99, which in-and-of itself is remarkable. If I stop right now, no other candidate can even come close to hitting all of the counties I've already hit. I told the people I was going to go to all of the counties, and I intend to fulfill that promise. And I think that it has come along well and I'm cautiously optimistic that I can come in first or second. I'm shooting for first. ... That's the way I am; I go for broke.
Hear the audio: http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070729TommyAmes.mp3
WisPolitics.com: A campaign (Tom Tancredo's) has been putting out literature that's made you have to answer a lot of questions on immigration ...
Thompson: It's obvious when people attack you they must think you're doing better than they are. I don't do that. I don't attack my opponents. But I responded. It's an absolute lie what he's putting out and I can't imagine that in good faith he can do that. I guess he feels he has to do that in order to try to build himself up trying to tear down who most people think are the three front-runners here in Iowa: Romney, Brownback and Thompson.
WisPolitics.com: You have quite a bit of experience, four terms as governor and you were secretary of Health and Human Services. You've said that makes you more qualified than the other candidates. Are there any other candidates that have enough qualifications to serve as president?
Thompson: Other candidates have qualifications, but no one has all the qualifications that I have and the resume that I have. ... I think the one closest to me is Bill Richardson, on the Democrat side. But his Department of Energy was much smaller than the Department of Health and Human Services, and he hasn't been governor as long.
When you apply for a job, people look at your resume. I, for one, have been a farmer, an individual that's a lawyer, a governor for 14 years. Nobody can equal that. I ran the largest federal department, money-wise, and no one can equal that. And successfully, with all of it. I put together revolutionary programs in welfare reform and school choice and economic development. No one can question that or equal that. I have 1,900 vetoes. That's more vetoes than all the candidates combined. I vetoed $16.4 billion in spending and taxes in Wisconsin. That's more than all the candidates combined. A resume like that should propel me to be in the front position.
The only problem is I don't have any money. I don't have money to be on television or otherwise I'd be out there.
WisPolitics.com: You've been putting quite a bit of your own money into the campaign. How much did you put in and how much are you willing to do?
Thompson: I put in enough.
WisPolitics.com: Giuliani and McCain have dropped out of the straw poll, aren't putting the resources into it. How has that changed what you're doing down here?
Thompson: It hasn't changed a bit. People don't realize this, but everyone of those candidates' names is going to be on the ballot. McCain, Giuliani. So I don't see what they've gained by backing out. They can always say they didn't put the resources in it, but they didn't have the resources in Iowa. That's why they dropped out. They knew they were going to get beaten. They're still going to get beat because their names are on the ballot and people are going to see who the straw poll voters have voted for.
WisPolitics.com: Some of the Republican candidates look like they're not going to participate in the YouTube debate. ... You're willing to go to that, right?
Thompson: I'm interested. I'm not afraid of putting myself on the line for all the debates. I don't like the debates the way they're formatted because the news people have chosen who they think the three front-runners are. I think they've chosen wrong. I don't think those front-runners are going to be there when it's finally said who's going to be the nominee on the Republican side.
WisPolitics.com: On the Democratic side, who do you think is the most beatable and who would you like to match up against?
Thompson: I think it would be fun to go against any of the top three. Hillary, Obama, Edwards. ... I think this is going to shake out to be a classic presidential campaign. Even though I think Hillary is going to get the nomination, nobody's got anywhere near a lock on the Republican nomination. And I think the difference is going to be so dramatic it's going to be decided for the voters. The voter is not going to have to scratch his or her head as to who they're going to vote for. ... I think it's going to be very close, and I really think it's going to be Minnesota and Wisconsin ... that will probably be the states that are going to determine who is going to be the president of the United States.
WisPolitics.com: You've been on the road quite a bit. How is your family dealing with it?
Thompson: Sue Ann is not with me today, but yesterday my son was with me. ... Today I've got the grandchildren and my two daughters. I love having them around ... which I miss. I'm down here now for the duration. I won't be back to Madison for two weeks. I feel bad about that. I like to get home. The last time I was home was last Sunday night. I haven't been home all this week and now I won't be home until two weeks from today. That will be three weeks. Sue Ann will be on vacation with her girlfriend ... so she'll be coming down next week for the final week.
WisPolitics.com: You had an inside look at the Bush administration while you were head of Health and Human Services. ... Did you notice any undue pressure on the surgeon general's office or any interference?
Thompson: No. No more undue pressure than on any of us has. I think it is what it is. The White House likes to have the opportunity to ensure people are all singing out of the same hymn book. When they did that I had no problem with it. They would talk to me, but I would still do a lot of things my own way and never really got in that much trouble. I had a very good working relationship with Dr. Carmona and I didn't see anything while I was (in Washington). He wasn't there the first two years I was there. The two years I had there that were overlapping we got along well and I didn't see anything that was untoward ...
WisPolitics.com: He never complained to you?
Thompson: Nothing was ever discussed with me.
WisPolitics.com: How would you relate with your cabinet secretaries?
Thompson: I would be much more open. ...The president of the United States should not be so insular and have such a cloistered type of administration. I found it hard to break through. The president likes to limit the contacts to him and that's the way he governed and that's the way he conducted the affairs of state at the federal level. I'm a different type of person. I love to have people come in and see me. I'm very open. I was much more open with the press when I was governor. I met with the press any time they really wanted to. I got a chance to invite a lot of people with diversity, a lot of women, a lot of minorities. I always felt that was a better way of doing things than just limiting the kinds of individuals that will report to you. I think you've got to hear a lot of different variations in order for you to really understand the scope of the problem and make the right decision.
I think when the history of the White House under George Bush is written I think it's going to be that he missed the opportunity to have a lot more advisers that could have influenced him and he could have done a better job. I think that's what history's going to say.
Not to say that he didn't do a good job. I think George W. Bush has had a lot more thrown at him than anybody else ever though possible. He's kept us from having any more attacks on our homeland. He gets blamed for everything and he needs to get credit for some of the stuff.
WisPolitics.com: Who do you think did a better job as president? His father or him?
Thompson: Well, I think his father will go down in history as doing a better job. If he turns this Iraq war around before he gets out, history may be kind to him. If he doesn't, I don't think history will be that kind to him.
WisPolitics.com: What's your view on the surge plan he's got going on now over in Iraq. Do you think we need more time to wait?
Thompson: I like my plan better. My three-point plan, requiring the federal government to vote as to whether or not they want us in their country and tell us how they're going to help pay for it and how they're going to help us win that war. I don't think it's fair and equitable to have all the responsibility for both paying for and fighting that war on America, and Americans. And that's why I've come up with my plan. Secondly, if they don't want us (there) and they vote that way, then ... we'll re-deploy our forces outside the Middle East and to other countries like Afghanistan, have all the territories elect their leaders like we do in Wisconsin and that will be able to really reduce down the civil war and strife that's going on, the religious civil war that's going on in Iraq. And I would also split the oil revenue: one-third to the federal government, one-third to the states and one-third to every man, woman and child. We do that in Alaska, and that's worked out very well.
WisPolitics.com: You tell some pretty good stories on the campaign trail ... in your speech, are there any other that you...
Thompson: Sure I'd love to tell you a story ... Muscatine, Iowa. I was there on a Saturday afternoon ... I think it was in January when I first started coming down here ... People were inviting people into their houses to see me, to get a chance to meet me and I was at this house and he invited in about 50 people. And I noticed this elderly woman with a seat at the kitchen table, and I spoke and I noticed that she was watching me intently and listening to everything I said. And what you try and do as a candidate is ... try and get people to sign up, you know, after I speak so there are contacts and we can ... solicit them to come to the straw poll on the telephone after I leave. That's how we're building our campaign in Iowa. And this elderly woman, she was watching me so intently I thought: 'My Lord,' I'm pretty sure I've got her. So I went over to her after I got done speaking and she said to me: 'You just did a wonderful job.' She said: 'I'm Mrs. Patterson, and I'm 81 years old and I just come to these events to meet the candidate. I never listen to them; I usually fall asleep. But I want you to know, I listened to everything you said, you made a lot of sense, and you really were interesting and I really want to thank you.' And I said: 'I noticed you were watching me Mrs. Patterson; that's why I came over. I'm wondering if I can get you to sign my endorsement slip.'
And she said: 'Oh no Mr. Thompson. I've only met you once.'
Well, the attitude is that they've got to meet you three times down here before they sign up. And that's a true story. 'Oh no Mr. Thompson. I only met you once.'