Thompson: McCain is 'country first'

Fred Thompson, who challenged John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination, cast his former rival Tuesday as a man of integrity with the will to shake up Washington.

The former Tennessee senator and actor also sought to rally the party faithful behind McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin has faced intense scrutiny this week after a series of personal and political revelations, including news that her unmarried teen daughter is pregnant and the disclosure that she had backed federal funding for a controversial bridge in her state that McCain and others had held up a symbol of pork-barrel spending.

"She is from a small town, with small-town values, but apparently that's not good enough for some of the folks who are out there attacking her and her family," Thompson said. "She and John McCain are not going to care how much the alligators get irritated when they get to Washington; they're going to drain that swamp."

Thompson recounted McCain's 5½ years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and the isolation and torture he endured.

"Being a POW doesn't qualify anyone to be president," Thompson said. "But it does reveal … the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of history have sought in their leaders."

Thompson is perhaps best known to TV viewers for his former acting role as district attorney Arthur Branch on Law & Order.

He had campaigned on McCain's behalf in the 2000 presidential race, but launched his own White House bid last year. He dropped out in January after his campaign failed to gain traction among conservatives.