Thompson Takes the Plunge

Hours before his official Webcast statement hit the Internet, Fred Thompson announced he is running for President on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

"I'm running for president of the United States," Thompson told the late-night talk-show host.

While he was taping the show in Burbank, Calif., his eight GOP rivals were prepping for Wednesday's debate in New Hampshire, hosted by Fox News.

Thompson said he will "give this campaign all that I have to give" in his official announcement.

He also named his chief opponent: Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. In his 12-minute Webcast announcement, Thompson promises he can prevent "another Clinton victory."

"Our country needs us to win next year, and I am ready to lead that effort," Thompson says on his new campaign website,

Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, is the ninth candidate to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination.

For the last three months, a lawyer and former "Law & Order" actor, has tested a possible candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, garnering mention in polls and headlines alike. The timing of his announcement seems to be more curious than the announcement. Eager supporters expected the former lawyer and "Law & Order" actor to announce near the Fourth of July – but, the holiday came and went without any fireworks from the Thompson camp. Friends of Fred - Thompson's testing-the-waters committee - reported less-than-hoped-for fundraising totals for its first month. A $5 million expectation was met by a $3.46 million reality, which included donations from two fundraising events and more than 7,500 online contributions from his former Web site, The committee lost top staffers reportedly over organizational struggles with his wife and former GOP organizer, Jeri. A new manager, Bill Lacy, was shipped in from Kansas to the campaign's Virginia headquarters, overhauling the campaign's communication department and bringing in new staff.

"Clearly, there is less buzz than there was the start of the summer – but, his fate will be determined in the future, not so much in the past, " Republican Strategist Whit Ayres said. "His campaign still has enormous potential."

Thompson first publicly approached the possibility of becoming a candidate when he appeared on "Fox News Sunday" on March 11.

"I'm giving some thought to it. Going to leave the door open," Thompson told Chris Wallace in the interview.

Since then, Thompson has sauntered through that opening and into the grouping of GOP hopefuls, placing second behind Rudy Giuliani in polls. In public appearances, Thompson often notes that he's managed to earn that placement without spending millions like other campaigns. However, as time passes, there's no doubt that Thompson will have to rise to the occasion and make up for lost time.

"Money is going to be a real factor in this race," South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson said. "It will be interesting to see his fundraising prowess."

Post-announcement, Thompson will campaign through a string of states with early nominating contests: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, in cities where his opponents have logged months of shaking hands across the country. While Thompson has made the requisite stops in key states while "testing the waters," his competition has had staff and campaign offices on the ground and potential voters are still unsure about what he represents.

"It's way too early to see where he's going to go. People haven't heard from him yet," Iowa Christian Alliance President Steve Scheffler, who attended a meeting with Thompson last month, said.

Thompson still has yet to debate the other eight Republican candidates. On Wednesday, he missed an opportunity to join his rivals on stage in New Hampshire. Thompson instead will appear on a spot airing on Fox News during the debate and will be a guest on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," which will be his second appearance on the show this summer.

The closest tangle Thompson has engaged in with his opponents came when he blogged about the New York gun law. He shook his finger at an "activist" judge "who provided Mayor Giuliani's administration with the legal ruling it sought to sue gun makers." According to Thompson, the judge was overstepping his bounds by allowing "New York City to sue out-of-state gun stores that sold guns that somehow ended up in criminal hands in the Big Apple." The incident, according to Thompson's Web site, not only offended Thompson's zeal for his Second Amendment rights, but also his strong federalist viewpoint. Giuliani's campaign fired back: "Those who live in New York in the real world - not on TV - know that Rudy Giuliani's record of making the city safe for families speaks for itself. No amount of political theater will change that."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another Republican presidential hopeful, has also fired some darts at Thompson's candidacy. Huckabee's campaign has been recently emboldened this summer by Iowa straw poll results, an event which Thompson skipped, but placed seventh as an undeclared candidate.

"I'll put it this way: I'd rather run on my record than on his record," Huckabee said of Thompson in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on "This Week."

Huckabee has publicly regarded Thompson's White House run with sharp-tongued derision. At the beginning of summer, Huckabee scoffed at what he called Thompson's "Mighty Mouse candidacy," in which he said, "voters are not necessarily looking for someone to come in and save the day."

However, on a conference call to supporters last week announcing their plans to move forward, Thompson's political director, Randy Enwright, said Thompson will run as the "mainstream conservative" in this race. Thompson has said he is "unabashedly pro-life" - despite questions about his past lobbying for an abortion-rights group. In a keynote speech at the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference last month, Thompson stated national security needs to be boosted, along with border security, to protect the country from what he calls present times, "the era of the suitcase bomb." He says he has no problems with national surveillance programs. He also believes in the "growth effect of tax cuts."

Now as an official candidate, Thompson and his ideas for what a president can - and should do - will be put to the test by opponents and voters alike.