WASHINGTON – As a veteran actor, Fred Dalton Thompson knows something about entering a stage. It’s all about the buildup.
The former Tennessee senator plans to announce his official entry into the Republican presidential contest Thursday. But he’ll pique interest first today with an ad aired during a GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire that Thompson will otherwise skip.
By then he will have taped an appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, which will air about an hour after the debate ends in many U.S. households. Come midnight, he’ll post a 15-minute video announcement on his official Web site.
The face time with Leno and the debate ad on Fox News Channel are the coquettish moves of a candidate who has already proven his aptitude using the media, from television to the Internet. While his main rivals – Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain – parry debate questions, Thompson will pretty much control his own message.
Thompson aides want as many eyes on the Web video as possible. The debate ad and a follow-up commercial Thursday will instruct viewers to go online and get their undiluted message straight from the candidate.
“We think one of the strongest weapons this campaign has is Fred Thompson’s ability to connect directly with the public,” said Todd Harris, Thompson’s communications director. “We want to drive as much traffic as possible to the Web site.”
Following that media drum roll, Thompson will make his first campaign appearance as a declared candidate Thursday afternoon in Iowa.
Thompson is hardly the first to use the Internet and media to build up public interest. In January, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her Democratic presidential bid with a webcast. In contrast, Sen. Barack Obama chose a more traditional route, announcing to a crowd in his home state of Illinois.
What stands out for Thompson is his blend of paid advertising, talk-show appearance, Internet and stump speech – all in less than 24 hours.
“That’s the modern way to do it,” said Tobe Berkovitz, the interim dean at Boston University’s college of communications. “Especially if people are looking for something new on the Republican side. People have had plenty of time to look at Rudy or Mitt or McCain. So it makes sense for Thompson to march to his own campaign drummer.”