Image: Tommy Thompson
Louis Brems  /  AP
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, R-Wisc., left, talks with supporter George Templer in Davenport, Iowa, on Saturday.
updated 4/1/2007 10:19:47 AM ET 2007-04-01T14:19:47

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson on Sunday joined the crowded field of Republicans running for the White House in 2008. "I am the reliable conservative," he asserted.

Thompson, who was health and human services secretary during President Bush's first term, also said he is the only GOP candidate who has helped assemble both a state and federal budget.

Since announcing last year he was forming a presidential exploratory committee to raise money and gauge support, Thompson has lagged behind better-known rivals.

Asked Sunday whether he was running for president, Thompson said, "That is correct."

Thompson, 65, has focused his strategy on Iowa, which holds the nation's first caucuses for presidential nominees. He has made weekly visits to the state and sought to make the case that it will take a candidate who can carry the Midwest to win the nomination.

"I'm telling you, things are starting to coalesce," Thompson said Sunday, despite his single-digit polling.

He said his Iraq strategy would be "tremendously" different from Bush's and said he opposed the Democratic approach in Congress to start withdrawing U.S. troops based on timelines.

'The dark horse candidate'
At a recent news conference in Wisconsin, Thompson called himself "the dark horse candidate. I was a dark horse candidate for governor. I was a dark horse candidate when I ran for the Assembly. I am the underdog, and I don't mind that."

The son of a grocer, Thompson spent 14 years as governor of Wisconsin, pushing for an overhaul of the state's welfare laws. He also championed a school choice program for Milwaukee.

His time in Bush's Cabinet included anthrax attacks, a flu vaccine shortage and passage of the Medicare prescription drug benefit law.

In 2006, he briefly flirted with the idea of running for governor but in the end decided not to seek his old job. He had considered running for president in 2000 but scrapped that, too, deciding he lacked support.

The leading GOP candidates in the race include former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Thompson was interviewed on "This Week" on ABC.

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