By JIM KUHNHENN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Fred Thompson is not leaving much to chance. So before his presidential announcement, there is the pre-announcement ad.
The veteran actor and former senator and lobbyist is declaring his presidential ambitions in a 15-minute Web cast early Thursday.
Just to make sure no one misses it, he is airing a 30-second ad on Fox News Channel during Wednesday night's broadcast of a Republican presidential debate from New Hampshire - which Thompson is skipping.
That ad, and another one airing Thursday, will encourage viewers to go to his Web site and hear him out. "Today, as before, the fate of millions across the world depends on the unity and resolve of the American people," Thompson says.
"I talk about this tomorrow on Fred08.com. I invite you to take a look and join us." Thompson, a regular on NBC's "Law & Order" series, knows something about entering a stage.
It's all about the buildup. Besides the ad, Thompson also will tape an appearance on NBC's "The Tonight Show," which will air about an hour after the debate ends in many U.S. households.
The face time with comedian Jay Leno and the debate ad are the coquettish moves of a candidate who already has proven his aptitude at 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.
"On the next president's watch, our country will make decisions that will affect our lives and our families far into the future," Thompson says in the ad.
"We can't allow ourselves to become a weaker, less prosperous and more divided nation." Thompson aides want as many eyes on the Web video as possible.
The debate ad and follow-up commercial on 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.
But the pre-announcement buildup places a burden on Thompson's Webcast performance. "To some degree when you announce likes this, particularly the way he has waited, he's going to have to give a very clear sense of what he wants to do if he becomes president," Republican strategist David Winston said.
"This speech has got to give that compelling reason as to why he wants to be president and that has to be driven by what policies he intends to pursue.
"The medium may have changed, but the ultimate content still has to be compelling enough to engage people," Winston added. 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."
Thompson's debate ad and Leno appearance could pose a risk, highlighting for voters Thompson's decision to forgo an exchange of views in New Hampshire with the remainder of the Republican field.
The move was not getting a warm reception in New Hampshire. "There is a genuine interest in Senator Thompson here, a real curiosity about him," New Hampshire Republican Chairman Fergus Cullen said.
"But that curiosity is giving way to skepticism and maybe even cynicism about him in part because of how he's handling his grand entrance.
For him to then go on Jay Leno the same night and be trading jokes while other candidates are having a substantive discussion on issues is not going to be missed by New Hampshire voters."
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden pointedly noted Tuesday that Romney has traversed New Hampshire, addressing voters and giving interviews.
"Tomorrow night is an opportunity to spend an hour and half with New Hampshire voters and talk to them about issues that are important to them," Madden said.
"Contrast that with 30 seconds in a paid ad." But Harris said the point of the ad is to remind the public that Thompson is on the immediate horizon and that voters should keep an open mind.
"For every person watching that debate who thinks they've made up their mind, there are probably going to be 20 who haven't decided."