Ryan Spidell, 19, who works in the kitchen at the Midtown Cafe in Newton, Iowa, asked Thompson about "Sen. Kennedy's bill on college debt."specificlinkedThe Weekly Standardnew campaign bloghispostIsaac Chotiner
Spidell was referring to Kennedy's Student Debt Relief Act, which would cut interest rates on student loans and cap loan payments.
Thompson had never heard of it.
"Sen. Kennedy has so many bills," Thompson said, and the audience laughed. "I must say I don't know the one you are referring to. But my daddy was a used-car dealer working on a dirt road. He and my momma got an eighth-grade education. I was a teenage husband and father, and I got my act together and started borrowing my way through school."
The audience laughed again.
"I think I paid off my loans at the same time my first child started college," Thompson went on. "I believe in Pell Grants, but I don't think we'll ever be able to guarantee four years of college from the federal treasury."
But then Thompson softened his answer by telling Spidell that he was "the backbone of the country" because he was working his way through school rather than "just having Daddy write a check for college."
The audience applauded. (Afterward, Spidell told a reporter he was going to vote Democratic.)