updated 10/3/2007 10:48:52 AM ET 2007-10-03T14:48:52

GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson argued Tuesday for increased military spending and said soldiers fighting in Iraq need better equipment and effective leaders.

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"We're going to have to spend more money for the kind of threats, the old kind and the new kind," Thompson said. "We're going to have to have a larger military, we're going to have to work closer with our allies."

Thompson made his comments on the fourth day of a visit to Iowa, where the presidential campaign's leadoff caucuses are scheduled for January. He mixed support for the Iraq war with criticism of how it has been conducted.

Speaking to about 75 people, he said of U.S. troops, "They should have the best support and equipment, and the leaders ought to know what they're doing."

Meeting later with reporters, Thompson said the U.S. had initially misjudged the war.

"We clearly did not anticipate what we were confronting there, and I don't think we went into this with enough troops and I don't think we had all the equipment we needed," he said.

He blamed some of that on reductions in military spending that accompanied the end of the Cold War.

"We cut back on those things and a lot of those chickens are coming home to roost," said Thompson. "Our military is stretched thin and we've got a lot of worn out equipment."

While backing the war, Thompson said, "No one wants to drill in a dry hole forever." He has consistently opposed a timetable for withdrawal.

‘Good communicator’ receives cool reception
This is Thompson's second multi-day trip through Iowa, where precinct caucuses begin the nominating process. He entered the presidential race only last month.

He has drawn solid but not spectacular crowds of up to a couple of hundred. Among those who braved a chilly rain on Tuesday to hear his stump speech, several said they were drawn out of curiosity to see the actor and former senator from Tennessee.

Backers have cast Thompson as a classic communicator in the mold of Ronald Reagan, who translated his acting background into two terms in the White House. During this visit, Iowans didn't seem ready to commit.

"I view him as a good communicator who has many of the values that moderate conservatives share," said Bill Hanson, of Fort Dodge. "I'm waiting to see if he can lead."

Bruce Johnston, of Webster City, said he remained "very undecided."

"It doesn't seem like he's come out really strongly on a lot of things," said Johnston. "He's got some of the same presentation skills, but we don't know much about him yet."

In his stump speech, Thompson employs a folksy, Southern style and speaks without notes. He rambles at times and doesn't always build to a rousing finish.

Speaking Monday to about 250 people in Marshalltown, Thompson had to point out that he was finished and it was OK for people to applaud.

"At least I got some applause," he said. "I had to ask for it."

In Cedar Falls, a country singer got the crowd rocking and clapping, but the room cooled as Thompson spoke.

"He's a good communicator, but I'm still looking," said Brad Niemeyer, of Fort Dodge.

On spending and SCHIP
Thompson's words sometimes get him into trouble. In his initial campaign visit to Iowa in September, he described the effort to capture terrorist leader Osama bin Laden as largely symbolic, then spent several days explaining what he had meant.

In his latest swing, he's had to explain why he doesn't support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He has insisted that influential social conservatives are untroubled by that position.

On the stump, he rarely goes into great detail about his positions. On Tuesday, for instance, he called for increased military spending but didn't explain how he would pay for it.

His larger themes are sharply conservative, including talking tough on immigration and backing President Bush's plan to veto a bill expanding a children's health program.

"We cannot have a strong economy if it's built on quicksand and quick illegal labor," said Thompson.

On the children's health care issue, Thompson said the plan passed by Congress goes too far.

"It's a classic case of a program that started out, it's a good program and served a good purpose," he said. "Why not write a check to everybody in the country. We can't do that. We are on an unsustainable spending path in this country, and no one seems to be willing to put the brakes on."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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