CORRECTION-Thompson to air first 2008 ad while skipping debate
(Corrects age to 65 fromo 64 in paragraph 5)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hours before he formally joins the 2008 White House race, Republican Fred Thompson will air his first television advertisement on Wednesday during a presidential debate he is skipping.
The advertisement, on Fox News during a two-hour Republican debate featuring all of the candidates except Thompson, is part of a multi-pronged rollout of the campaign announcement for the former Tennessee senator and Hollywood actor.
The ad, titled "Debate," will air a few hours before NBC shows his taped appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and before an online video of his announcement hits his campaign Web site after midnight on Thursday.
Thompson makes his first public appearance on Thursday afternoon in Iowa, which holds the first nominating contest in 2008, as he opens a five-day tour of early voting states. He also will air another television ad on Thursday as he finally revs up his campaign.
Thompson, 65, had delayed his announcement for months, keeping supporters on edge and raising questions about his ability and commitment to make what could be a grueling presidential run.
Campaign officials said they hoped to build excitement and interest in the campaign by making the announcement in multiple formats.
"One of this campaign's greatest strengths is Fred's ability to connect on a one-on-one basis with voters," campaign manager Bill Lacy said in a statement.
"By driving viewers to our Web site to hear his webcast announcement and learn more about Fred, these ads play to that strength and help to build our network in advance of his first trips to the early primary states as a candidate," he said.
Thompson formed a committee in his home state of Tennessee at the beginning of June to test the waters for a potential bid.
His candidacy stirred grass-roots interest among Republicans, particularly conservatives dissatisfied with the rest of the Republican pack, and he quickly shot into the top tier in national polls.
But the formal announcement has been pushed back repeatedly amid staff shake-ups and questions about his work as a lobbyist, his slow fund-raising and the influence of his second wife in the campaign.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads national polls of the Republican field, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads polls in the key early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.