Fred Thompson makes presidential candidacy announcement online

Posted by Mark Raby

Washington (DC) - At precisely 12:01 AM Eastern time today, Fred Thompson announced his candidacy for president, making history as the first to do so via an online webcast.

Although political enthusiasts may have tuned in to Fox News Channel last night to watch the latest Republican presidential debate, the man who was on most people's minds wasn't even there.  Fred Thompson, famously known for his role on Law & Order and earning his political chops as a 1980s Senator, loomed over the entire event as night owls waited for his midnight campaign announcement.

The 14-minute video opens with Thompson saying, "My friends, I come to today to tell you that I intend to run for president," and ends with the patriotic sign-off, "God bless you, and God bless America."  Thompson spent much of the remaining time talking about his political career, which will be surprisingly extensive to most people who only knew him as District Attorney Arthur Branch on the long-running NBC series Law & Order.  Thompson also talked, though at limited length, about his views on key issues.  He calls for lower taxes, free markets, and the "sanctity of life".  "Our country needs us (the Republican party) to win next year," said Thompson, going on to say he is the one who can make that happen.

The entire announcement process was a highly calculated strategy from the Thompson campaign.  By choosing September 6 to officially announce his presidential candidacy, he was able to avoid last night's Republican debate in New Hampshire.

Instead, Thompson was out in Burbank, CA as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where he scored more than twice as many viewers than he would have on the Fox News debate.  It also meant he did not have to get serious on the issues.  He now has a couple weeks as an official candidate before the next debate.

Thompson's "invisible presence" at last night's debate was evident, as the first question presented to the eight other candidates concerned his place in the presidential race.  

The candidates had differing views on where Thompson stands and how he's handled his campaign.  The strongest anti-war candidate Ron Paul said, "I welcome him to the race...he will help dilute the vote for my benefit because he's pro war."  Most candidates, however, didn't have such a strong opinion and answered the question lightly.  "Maybe we're up past his bedtime," joked Arizona Senator John McCain.  "The only question I have for Senator Thompson is 'Why the hurry?'  Why not take some more time off?  Maybe January or February might be a better time to make a final decision about getting into this race," said Mitt Romney.  "I think he's done a pretty good job playing my part on Law & Order," commented former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Just as Thompson's announcement video went live, his appearance on The Tonight Show aired on NBC.  While speaking with Jay Leno he mirrored much of what he said in his announcement video, and made sure not to say anything at all controversial.

Despite Thompson's unofficial status as a candidate, he has been doing inordinately well in the polls.  A Gallup poll recently showed his as the second most popular Republican candidate.

He has been in the enviable position of gaining this fame without talking much about the core issues at the heart of the 2008 election.  This has left him as a bit of a wild card, with most Americans left to wonder exactly what he stands for.

The most noteworthy aspect of Thompson's official announcement is that it was exclusively broadcast online.  This is a first for a candidate of a major party.

Thompson will appear in his first televised presidential debate on September 27 in Baltimore, Maryland.   Originally CNN was supposed to hold the next debate with a new entry in its series of Youtube debates.  However, that event has been pushed back to November 28.  The CNN debate, like the network's previous Democtratic debate, will be comprised entirely of questions sent in by Youtube users.

This should be right up Thompson's alley.  Though not an official candidate until today, Thompson has quickly earned a designation as one of the most active candidates in the online world.  Thompson has written blogs, posted on political message boards, and actively uploaded campaign videos on Youtube.

In many ways, Thompson is looked at as the candidate for the 21st century.  He seems to have a stronger grasp on the world wide web than any of his opposing candidates, many of whom rely on third-party campaign workers to handle things like their Myspace and Youtube accounts.

Thompson's biggest criticism so far is that he has been called lazy, not just because of his "late" entry into the race, but because in his Senatorial races he infamously shied away from typical campaigning routes.  He hopes to shake this image for his presidential run.  As such, Thompson will be hitting the campaign trial just hours after announcing his candidacy, as he heads to Iowa this morning and begins the official presidential campaign process.