One candidate may have been missing from the stage of Wednesday night's Republican debate in New Hampshire, but not from the commercial breaks.
Former Tennessee Sen. made his candidacy for the Republican nomination official at 12:01 a.m. today, when a 15-minute video to his supporters premiered on his Web site. But the first TV ad of Thompson's campaign debuted just before Wednesday night's debate on FOX News, as the candidate told supporters he would announce his bid the following day and directed them to his new campaign site, Fred08.com.
Standing beside an American flag, Thompson tells viewers of the importance of the upcoming election. "We can't allow ourselves to become a weaker, less prosperous and more divided nation. Today, as before, the fate of millions across the world depends on the unity and resolve of the American people," he says. The ad closes with Thompson saying he will talk more about those challenges in his announcement video.
The 30-second spot is titled "Debate" -- a strange reference to the event Thompson elected not to attend in favor of an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." That move drew criticism from several other Republican candidates. Some of the most pointed remarks came from former Massachusetts Gov. on Monday, who joked with reporters, "Why the hurry? Why not take a little longer to think this over?" in reference to Thompson's long-awaited announcement.
The former "Law & Order" star's decision Wednesday not only to skip the debate but also to run a TV spot on the same network garnered even more criticism from Romney's camp. "The voters will draw a conclusion that there's a big difference between a candidate who does a 30-second paid advertisement versus candidates who are willing to stand before the voters of New Hampshire and answer questions for 90 minutes," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said.
Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the Thompson camp, responded to Madden's comment by emphasizing Thompson's tri-state tour this week of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. "Fred Thompson will certainly be debating in the future, and he's going to spend the next two weeks talking to voters directly without the filter of a moderator and talk to them in more than 30-second sound bites," she said.
Romney, meanwhile, isn't about to let Thompson's announcement overshadow his recent leads in polls in both New Hampshire and Iowa. Last week he unveiled a new ad, "Leadership," in those states, and Wednesday his campaign announced the buy would expand into South Carolina along with a new spot, titled "Energy."
Both 30-second ads feature Romney jogging along a wooded trail and discussing his accomplishments as a businessman, governor and organizer of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. An announcer touts Romney's qualifications in "Leadership," while the candidate's wife, Ann, narrates much of "Energy." The latter closes as Romney and his wife hold one of their grandchildren, giving it more of a family feel than the earlier spot.
The new ads for Romney mark an advertising shift into South Carolina, a state where he had only run introductory ads early in his exploratory phase. The latest South Carolina polling numbers have Romney running fourth behind former New York City Mayor , Thompson and Arizona Sen. John McCain, respectively.