From CNBC's Karin Caifa
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson thinks the most dominant issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, next to the war on terror, will be health care. He adds that those issues along with geography could give him an edge in the race.
"It looks good. It looks very promising and encouraging," Thompson said of a potential bid in an interview with cnbc.com this morning. Thompson announced last month that he would form an exploratory committee and has made about 10 trips to the crucial caucus state of Iowa so far.
"I live right next to them in Wisconsin," he added optimistically. "And as I always tell people, Iowa used to be part of the old Wisconsin territory. And Wisconsin and Iowa haven't had a Midwestern candidate for a long time for president of the United States, so a lot of stars are lining up in the correct fashion for me to be a candidate."
Seizing on his experience in the Bush cabinet, Thompson is clearly focusing a possible campaign on the issue he knows best. "I think I'm in a good position to articulate a vision of health care that is affordable and accessible for all Americans," Thompson said.
And now, while living life outside the Beltway, he said he wouldn't be afraid to take on one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington: tobacco.
Thompson said he'd aim shift health care funding to more preventative care. And one of the best ways, he said, to save money on preventative care is to slow tobacco-related illnesses in America -- by getting people to stop smoking and by regulating the industry.
"We regulate baby aspirin and that's one of the healthy things Americans take," Thompson told CNBC pharmaceuticals reporter Mike Huckman. "And yet we do not regulate nicotine."
"I make no bones about it," Thompson continued. "I would regulate it through the FDA and I would place a tax on it. And that tax, I would not allow it to go to the government, but that tax I would set up to be able help people to be able to quit smoking. Tax smokers to help smokers to stop smoking."
Throughout his career, Thompson has raised eyebrows within both parties for his stance on tobacco. International trips taken during his tenure as governor of Wisconsin and funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris were scrutinized by Democrats in the run-up to his confirmation as HHS Secretary. Once in the post, Thompson rankled the GOP with statements that he was considering new taxes on tobacco, statements he made without alerting the White House.
Thompson is confident his potential presidential candidacy would give his tobacco taxation proposal momentum. "If you are president of the United States, if you are a candidate for president, you articulate a vision," he said. "And that vision that I am talking about would resonate, and would be able to be, overwhelmingly, be the majority position in America. If you want to control health care, you've got to make tough decisions."
As far as the 2008 race goes, the list of Republican possibilities includes a bevy of politicians with more name-recognition than Thompson. The former Wisconsin governor said he will continue along with the exploratory process before making a final decision. And if he doesn't make it to the White House, he'd consider another run at the governor's mansion in Madison. "There's no question about that," he said of a return to the state capitol. "I even looked at that possibility this year."
But for now Thompson continues to test the waters, which means more trips to neighboring Iowa before the end of this year, he said. And if all goes well, next year too.