Image: Tommy Thompson
Darren Hauck  /  AP
Presidential candidate Tommy Thompson talks to supporters at Messmer High School on Wednesday in Milwaukee.
By Associated Press Writer
updated 4/5/2007 1:06:45 PM ET 2007-04-05T17:06:45

Presidential candidate Tommy Thompson said Wednesday that he wants the Iraqi government to vote on whether the U.S. should keep its troops there. “I’m confident they will, but ... if they do vote no — they don’t want us there — we should get out,” Thompson said, drawing applause.

Thompson, who was health and human services secretary during President Bush’s first term, made the comment during his first formal presidential campaign stop in his home state. He formally announced Sunday on “This Week” on ABC that he is seeking the Republican nomination for president.

Thompson described himself as the only candidate with a commonsense approach to Iraq.

He said he would work with Iraqi leaders to form 18 self-governing provinces that would operate under a national government. He also would encourage the Iraqi government to give each citizen a stake in the nation’s oil reserves.

“We must give the Iraqi people a stake in their nation and stability in their future,” Thompson said.

He spoke to about 1,000 people Wednesday morning at the Tommy G. Thompson Athletic Center at Messmer High School, a Catholic school involved in the pioneering voucher program that Thompson helped create as governor. It allows low income families in Milwaukee to send their children to private schools at state expense.

‘The dark horse candidate’
Since announcing last year he was forming a presidential exploratory committee to raise money and gauge support, Thompson has lagged behind better-known rivals, like former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

On Sunday, the 65-year-old proclaimed himself the “reliable conservative” in the race.

He has previously said he didn’t mind being “the dark horse candidate.”

Thompson left the Bush administration in 2005 and established his presidential exploratory committee in December.

He 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.

Thompson spent 14 years as governor of Wisconsin, pushing for an overhaul of the state’s welfare laws and championing Milwaukee’s school choice, or voucher, program.

In 2006, he briefly toyed with the idea of running for governor but in the end decided against it. He had considered running for president in 2000 but decided he lacked support.

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