By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff
DES MOINES, Iowa -- While the Republican presidential candidates prepared to debate tonight in New Hampshire, Fred Thompson was nowhere near the first-primary state. Instead, he was preparing to launch his campaign in an unusual style that will either go down in history as a brilliant strategic stroke or a classic blunder.
In short order today, Thompson taped an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, released a campaign advertisement that aired during the GOP debate, and prepared to release his official announcement in an online video available immediately after midnight on his campaign website . All of these moves are intended to set the stage for what will finally -- after months of speculation and indecision -- culminate in his formal announcement speech Thursday afternoon in Des Moines.
Thompson is gambling that his unorthodox announcement strategy, which has already upset the chairman of New Hampshire's Republican Party and Fox News, co-sponsors of the debate, will not hurt his chances in the New Hampshire primary. He plans to spend part of three days touring Iowa before arriving in New Hampshire on Saturday night. He then plans a bus tour of the Granite State on Sunday.
In the television advertisement that is slated to run during the debate, Thompson stands before an American flag and says, "the fate of millions across the world depends on the unity and resolve of the American people. I talk about this tomorrow on Fred08.com. I invite you to take a look and join us."
The strategy has created plenty of buzz, but also plenty of questions about his strength in the early caucus and primary states. After tonight, when he will formally be in the fray, the scrutiny of the actor-politician will be far greater.