DES MOINES, Iowa — He’s far less known than some of his potential rivals, but former Cabinet secretary and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson says he’ll form a committee allowing him to test the waters for seeking the Republican nomination for president.
Thompson says health care will be one of the top three issues in the next presidential election and that his background heading the Health and Human Services Department makes him a natural fit. The other issues, he says, will be energy independence and the war in Iraq.
“The times are right for my ideas,” Thompson told The Associated Press on Wednesday, shortly before he met with a group of about 100 Iowa health professionals.
More than 90 percent of spending on health care — roughly 16 percent of the gross national product — is for treating disease, while only about 8 percent is spent on prevention, Thompson said.
“To me that’s just backwards,” he said. “I want to try and transpose that.”
On his visits to Iowa, where precinct caucuses traditionally launch the presidential nominating season, Thompson has felt encouraged by the initial reaction to a presidential run. He said he’ll move relatively quickly to formalize his plans by establishing an exploratory committee after the first of the year.
4 decades in politics
Thompson would start out months behind potential rivals, such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., many of whom have staff on the ground in Iowa and are beginning to build campaign organizations. Money will be a big question mark.
Thompson, who will turn 65 on Sunday, spent nearly four decades in politics and government, including 14 years as Wisconsin’s governor. He pushed for an overhaul of Wisconsin welfare laws, well before Congress and President Clinton took up the issue on the national level.
His tenure as HHS secretary was marked by anthrax attacks, a flu vaccine shortage and passage of the Medicare prescription law.
A month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the nation faced its first case of bioterrorism in the form of anthrax attacks against government and media targets in Washington, Florida and New York. Thompson generally escaped criticism, but lawmakers complained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reacted slowly to the crisis.
In 2004, similar criticism was leveled at the Food and Drug Administration for its reaction to the loss of half the U.S. supply of flu vaccine because of contamination at a manufacturing plant in England.
Thompson was a key player in Bush’s AIDS initiative, a commitment of $15 billion over five years for treatment and prevention of the scourge overseas. He traveled frequently to Africa, and he used his AIDS role to trumpet his idea of medical diplomacy, investing in health care and medical facilities around the world.
He resigned as HHS secretary in December 2004 shortly after Bush won a second term.
Born in Elroy, Wis., Thompson prided himself on his small-town roots — his father was a grocer. Thompson introduced himself to voters during his first gubernatorial campaign in 1986 as a proud son of Elroy, “located between Kendall and Union Center, north of Wonewoc and south of Hustler.”
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