WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (CNN) - Fred Thompson made his first public appearance since dropping out of the presidential race Tuesday, using his conservative credentials to backstop a major speech Tuesday from presumptive Republican nominee John McCain on judicial appointments.
Thompson, seated behind McCain on stage and rocking back in his arm chair, grinned as McCain called him “an old and very dear friend” and made a few light-hearted references to Thompson’s acting resume.
“I know exam week involves some tough moments,” McCain told students in the audience at Wake Forest University. “Like when you're up at 3:00 a.m. and have to choose between studying or watching one of Fred's old movies.”
Aside from issuing a statement endorsing McCain, Thompson mostly dropped from public view following his loss in the South Carolina primary January 19, spending time with his family and re-signing with a talent agency.
Thompson’s appearance at McCain’s speech, along with that of former Solicitor General Theodore Olsen, was symbolically important for McCain, who is hoping to convince conservatives that he shares their philosophy on jurists. Thompson escorted Chief Justice John Roberts through the Supreme Court nomination process in 2005, and he regularly railed against “activist judges” on the campaign trail.
The former Tennessee senator began his day in Winston-Salem by eating breakfast with Olsen and McCain adviser Charlie Black. After the speech, Thompson will attend a fundraiser, then take a ride on the Straight Talk Express with McCain and reporters.