WASHINGTON -- As a movie actor, Fred Thompson often appeared in edge-of-your-seat dramas. As a senator, he's the star of a real-life cliffhanger: Will the Tennessee Republican run for re-election?
Those waiting in the wings include five members of Congress, an ex-presidential candidate and the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board. And among the extras are a slew of state lawmakers ready to pursue any House seats that might open up because of Thompson.
"They're already lining up. It's almost like a row of dominoes here," said Rep. Ed Bryant, R-Tenn., who plans to run if Thompson does not next year.
Thompson, 59, is considered a shoo-in if he seeks re-election. The White House and national GOP leaders are encouraging him to run, wary of the prospect of devoting time and money to what otherwise is a safe seat in a year when Republicans must defend 20 of the 34 seats on the ballot. Democrats control the chamber by one seat.
Before leaving for the August recess, Thompson indicated he would use the time to think about his future. Congress returned last week, and Thompson appears still to be thinking.
"There's no change; nothing really to report," he said Thursday.
Thompson could announce his intentions Saturday at the annual state Republican fund-raiser in Nashville, where he's one of several speakers.
Rep. Bart Gordon, one of four House Democrats considered possible Senate candidates should Thompson retire, says he thinks Thompson will run.
"I just think that the president will convince him to run again," Gordon said.
Other Democrats in the mix are Reps. Harold Ford Jr., Bob Clement and John Tanner and former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall of Chattanooga.
Bryant is the only Republican who's said he definitely will run if Thompson retires.
"My thinking is, in case he were not to run, we need to have somebody prepared to step in quickly," said Bryant, a former U.S. attorney who helped prosecute President Clinton during impeachment.
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