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Thompson gambles on unusual strategy

Fred Thompson is announcing his presidential bid today. Fred Thompson is announcing his presidential bid today.

DES MOINES - While other Republican presidential candidates debated last night in New Hampshire, the newest candidate, Fred Thompson, was nowhere near the first-primary state. Instead, he was launching his campaign in an unusual style that will either go down in political history as a brilliant strategic stroke or a classic blunder.

In short order yesterday, Thompson taped an appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and released a 30-second campaign advertisement that aired during the Republican debate. Thompson's decision to skip the debate upset the sponsors, who include New Hampshire's Republican Party.

At 12:01 a.m. today, Thompson released an online video in which he ended months of speculation and indecision, declaring, "I intend to run for president."

The video, posted on his campaign website (fred08.com), provided a glimpse of what is likely to become a staple of his campaign, showing the gravelly-voiced Thompson telling the story of his unlikely rise from the son of a used-car dealer to become a US senator, television and movie star and, now, presidential candidate.

Describing himself as a "teenage husband" - he married shortly after turning 17 - Thompson said: "My story is an American story - like one of many our country has produced - where a small-town kid of modest means and modest goals grows up to realize that he has been a very lucky person."

Thompson then laid out his political strategy, appealing both to the conservative base and to a broader cross-section of voters, portraying himself as someone who can bring people in both major political parties together. "Our basic rights come from God and not from government," Thompson said in the video, adding that "not every problem should have a federal solution."

He also took a shot at the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, noting how her husband became president in 1992 and declaring that Republicans don't want "another Clinton victory. Our country needs us to win next year, and I'm ready to lead that effort."

Thompson plans to deliver his first speech on the campaign trail as a full-fledged candidate this afternoon in Des Moines, then go for a bus tour across Iowa, the first caucus state. He will then head to New Hampshire for a Sunday bus tour before heading to South Carolina and other early primary states.

Michael Kranish can be reached at kranish@globe.com.

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