From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum and NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy
On his first trip to South Carolina as a presidential candidate, Fred Thompson altered his stump speech a bit, playing to the audience members' hawkish views and getting a very favorable response. Pushing an America-versus-the-world theme, he was more forceful with his Iraq and terrorism language. "I'm reminded of the fact that our people have shed more blood for other people's liberties than any other combination of nations in the history of the world." he said to a standing ovation. "While you're on your feet, let me add that I'm getting a little bit tired of people feeling the necessity for apologizing for the United States of America."
Thompson added that the whole world is watching America, waiting to see if she falters. "We must show the world that we are determined to do whatever is necessary to protect this country and to win in Iraq and the global war," he said. "General Petraeus, of course, is testifying today. He was confirmed unanimously and everybody says he's the greatest thing that has ever happened and he very well may be... Now he's coming back with a report, and it's just like the Democratic leaders can't wait for a report, because it's almost as if they feared good news. And they are competing with one another who can pull up the white flag the first."
"I think we got good news coming out of there," Thompson continued. "I don't think that anybody's got blinders on. We know that this is a tough proposition. But this worldwide conflict that we are in, where the forces of civilization are pitted against the forces of evil and anarchy is not going to go away. It's time we faced up to that. And if we run out of Iraq with our tail between our legs, it's going to be that much more difficult."
Thompson attracted his biggest crowd yet, and was rewarded with a hugely positive response. About 350 people crowded into the Greenville Marriott banquet hall. They waved American flags to the beat of country music, and one person chanted "Run, Fred, Run" as he entered the room. "We running, we running," Thompson replied to escalating applause and cheers. "We get a lot of folks already in this race who keep saying, well when's Fred going to run... Well, Fred is running and I hope they like what they are asking for."
He connected to the southerners, telling them he is happy to be in in South Carolina because it's close to Tennessee in many ways. The audience members loved the fact that Thompson refers to the campaign as "our campaign" and not "my campaign." One man told Thompson he had come to the town hall out of curiosity, but is now "completely behind him." Thompson reached off stage to give the man a hearty handshake and thank you. Another fan yelled out "You need to kick ass, Fred."
During the middle of the speech, Thompson called his wife Jeri up on the stage. She is traveling with him throughout South Carolina after skipping two days in Iowa and one in New Hampshire. While she looked uncomfortable on stage, the audience loved her. Thompson, praising his wife, told the audience, "I don't know if it's true or not, but I'm the liberal in the family."
And during the Q&A, a stay at home mom told Thompson she completely backs him but asked him to speak more about his religious beliefs everywhere without being afraid or ashamed. After a pause, Thompson carefully answered, "I guess I am one of those people who feel a little bit uncomfortable getting too inside your person and personality and so forth, but I understand it's necessary, and I'm doing the best I can with it. I don't hold myself out to be a perfect person. I have not always met the standard that I've set for myself. But I know that I'm right with God, and I'm right with the people I love, and the people I love I think are right with me. That's all I need to go forward."