Election 2008: Thompson is (almost) in; who is he?

Back in March, R. Neal here at Facing South predicted that a "dark horse" candidate from the South -- especially someone like former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) -- could change the 2008 presidential elections.It's starting to look that way: The Caucus -- political blog of the New York Times -- reports today that Thompson is "taking formal steps toward a presidential bid," including setting up a fundraising committee. Caucus blogger Kate Phillips notes the hype surrounding the Law and Order star:
Mr. Thompson has generated a lot of excitement as a potential candidate, especially among conservative Republicans who have expressed dissatisfaction with the current group of 2008 G.O.P. contenders.
We've all seen Thompson on TV (it's impossible to avoid a L&O re-run in a round of channel-surfing), but what kind of politician is he? The most common comparison -- both for his screen-savvy charm and his seemingly-nebulous politics -- is Ronald Reagan.
I say "seemingly nebulous" because -- like Reagan -- Thompson has worked hard to project an image of being a populist "independent" who "bucks the party line." But in reality, he's a staunch conservative. In 1996, Michelle Cottle featured Thompson in the Washington Monthly after his election to the U.S. Senate:
In a database of congressional voting records maintained by the non-partisan Project Vote Smart, Thompson shares the No. 1 spot with a handful of senators who most consistently vote the Republican party line. And in a November 1995 analysis, Vote Smart lists him as having supported Contract With America items 100 percent of the time. So Thompson may be seen as a moderate, but his voting record has made him a darling of the far right. 'When Thompson was first elected, we were afraid he would prove to be a liberal Republican like Howard Baker," says John Davies, head of the Tennessee Conservative Union, "but we've been extremely pleased with his voting record so far."That being said, it is surprising that he's seen as the champion for social conservatives: as Cottle notes, one of the few issues where he actually has "bucked the party line" is abortion. He identified himself in the 1990s as "pro-choice."For more on Thompson's politics today, see Kevin Drum at Political Animal here and here.UPDATE: Who will work on Thompson's campaign? The Wall Street Journal today reports (sub required) that Timothy Griffin, the former aid to Karl Rove and installed Arkansas attorney who (as we've reported here at Facing South) has been key to the U.S. attorney scandal, has "had discussions" with the Thompson crew. (Hat tip to TPM Muckraker)