"With those first principles, it allowed a fellow like me to get in his truck and go from one end of the state to the other; started 20 points down and wound up 20 points ahead on election night."

Fred Thompson on Friday, September 21st, 2007 in Washington, D.C.


Driving his truck to victory

Yes, it's true. Fred Thompson combined his folksy charm (the truck) with a set of conservative principles (less government, lower taxes, more free markets) to win election to the U.S. Senate in 1994.

And, indeed, in February of that year Thompson trailed Democrat Jim Cooper by 19 points — 36 to 17 percent — according to polling at the time by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.

Thompson went on to win the race, which was a special election to complete the term of Al Gore who became vice president, with 60 percent of the vote to Cooper's 39 percent (a 21 percentage-point spread). Thompson won re-election to a full term two years later, defeating Democrat Houston Gordon, 61 to 37 percent.

The truck played a role for the lobbyist and actor. He leased it to campaign in the state, building his down-home bona fides among voters.

In the same speech Thompson also pointed out, correctly, that President Bill Clinton won Tennessee twice. But it's worth noting that Thompson's first victory, 1994, came in a tidal wave year for Republicans, who took control of Congress.

"That was kind of a watershed year in Tennessee," said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon.