Political Capital with John Harwood

Fred Thompson: Delicate Dance Into The Spotlight

Fred Thompson

You'll get a nice look at political stagecraft this week with Fred Thompson's carefully calibrated entry on Thursday into the Republican presidential race.

There's a Wednesday night GOP debate in New Hampshire that Thompson chose not to participate, lest it muddy his opening message. But instead of leaving the stage altogether, here's how he will attract attention that day: with a TV ad timed to coincide with the debate, and an appearance later that night with Jay Leno.

It's a delicate dance, since Thompson wants to offend neither New Hampshire nor the Fox network, which is the home station for Republican primary voters and is televising the debate. But Thompson's first impression is more important than ever because of his late start.

Just after midnight turns Wednesday into Thursday, Thompson will release a Web cast announcement video--the same unfiltered device that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama used for their announcements earlier this year. On Thursday itself, Thompson won't deliver his live announcement speech in Des Moines until 3 pm eastern time--better for forcing the news media to run his Web cast until then. The speech itself will provide fresh material for the evening news.

It's a far cry from the crammed announcement days that prevailed when I started covering national campaigns two decades ago. But it's designed to maximize a late-comer's ability for enter the race in progress and drive news coverage--at least for a while.

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