LE MARS, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson said Friday that the lymphoma he was diagnosed with a few years ago is a chronic disease that could resurface, but that it's treatable and should have no bearing on his longevity, candidacy or ability to lead the nation.
"I've never been ill from it a day in my life," Thompson told a small group of reporters during a wide-ranging interview on his campaign bus from Sioux City to the farm town of Le Mars. "I wouldn't be thinking about doing this at all if I had any questions about it."
On Day Two of his campaign, Thompson also weighed in on President Bush, Iraq, abortion and gay rights. At the same time, he continued a low-key pace: three stops on Friday after two the day before.
At a midmorning town hall meeting in Sioux City with a couple hundred voters, Thompson had some fans, but several undecided voters said he hadn't given them enough energy or detail to win them over.
"I didn't think it was a homerun exactly, but I thought it was a nice base hit," said Forde Fairchild, an assistant U.S. Attorney.
At an unscheduled stop around lunchtime at an old-fashioned diner in Le Mars, Thompson shook a couple dozen hands and signed autographs. It was a warm blue-sky day despite a forecast of rain.
Thompson was in fine spirits. His wife Jeri and their two young children had peeled off after the morning event, and later inside the plush bus with its black leather swivel chairs he held up a tin of microwave chili, declared it the "brunch of champions" and teased: "My wife is off the bus. I can have things like canned chili."
Despite his spirits, Thompson has been dogged by reporters' questions about his health.
In response, Thompson said he discovered his cancer when he felt a lump on his neck. His first two tests came back negative, but the third was positive.
Doctors told him it was a form of cancer known as indolent lymphoma, which causes little pain and is relatively benign.
Of the more than 30 types of lymphoma, his doctors told him, 'This is the kind to have," Thompson laughed. He was treated with radiation and chemotherapy.
"My understanding is you can expect to live a normal life expectancy," Thompson said, but added, "It's something that is always potentially there." Thompson said he probably would have his next test in October. His last checkup was in May.
As Thompson wended his way across Iowa, home to the early presidential caucuses, the former U.S. senator and actor outlined his positions to voters.
On President Bush: "I think that we are finally on the right track in Iraq now, and we're making progress. President Bush has done a good job in terms of domestic economics. I give him credit for the Supreme Court nominations he's made." He did criticize the president for overspending.
On the war: "The American people don't want to lose, and when the American people are convinced that this is part of a global war you see some very high numbers of people saying, 'Yeah we've gotta stay there and do what's necessary to prevail.' You're already seeing a change in perception as better news comes out of Iraq."
On abortion: Thompson said anti-abortion laws should target providers, not pregnant girls and women or their families. He said he doesn't support criminal penalties for those who seek abortions.
On homosexuality: "I'm not going to pass judgment on several million of my fellow citizens. Anybody that knows me knows how I feel about the importance of a family . . . of traditional marriage. As president of the United States, one should not go out of their way to castigate or pass judgment publicly on a large segment of people."
Thompson also made it clear that he wouldn't support a constitutional ban on gay marriage, saying it's a matter for state legislatures to decide. He also wants to ban judges from approving gay marriage unless their state legislatures have done so.
Finally, Thompson told voters in Sioux City that he supports oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, doesn't support government-run health care and believes that illegal immigrants should be deported but not necessarily prosecuted.