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Fred's in

NBC/National Journal campaign reporter Adam Aigner-Treworgy sets the scene for Thompson's first stop today in Iowa… With his first official campaign event scheduled for 3:00 pm ET today, the Fred Thompson camp is working hard to create the right atmosphere to ensure that its candidate enters the race with a splash. On the second floor of the Polk County Convention Complex in downtown Des Moines, in a wide-open room with the capacity for more than three hundred people, the campaign has erected a large stage equipped with three video projectors set in a faux-limestone façade.

The first thing supporters will see is a short video presentation that the advance team has called a biopic on the life of Fred Thompson, followed by a brief introduction by a prominent member of the local media and then a 30- to 45-minute speech that will serve as Thompson's official introduction to both Iowa and the entire country.

In the hallway outside the convention hall, a small group of self-proclaimed "Fred-Heads" gathered on Wednesday night to decorate the bland concrete walls with hand painted signs featuring slogans such as "Run, Fred, Run" and "Got Fred?" The volunteers consisted mostly of local activists with an interest in Thompson. Some had defected from the McCain campaign after the senator's struggling campaign made drastic changes in his Iowa staff, while others claimed they have been waiting for Thompson to run since the early 1990s. One of the volunteer sign-painters said that Iowans were still struggling to find a candidate to support, and that she suspected the predominant emotion among Thursday's attendees would be curiosity. The only real question remaining is: Who's going to show up?

With no real campaign headquarters in the state, his sole rep here in Iowa has been a young man named Andrew Dorr. Dorr -- who had been rumored to be heading up Rudy Giuliani's Iowa strategy before Thompson officially hired him in late June -- was the political director for Jim Nussle's (R) failed gubernatorial campaign in 2006 and is fairly well respected among Iowa politicos. He will be heading up Thompson's Midwest efforts and the feeling seems to be that any supporters Thompson has in the Midwest thus far are due to Dorr's hard groundwork.

The New York Times' lead: "After months of false starts, staff shake-ups, and questions about the seriousness of his intention to run for president, Fred D. Thompson rolled out his candidacy last night with a two-pronged entry into the race that sought to take the spotlight from his Republican opponents as they squared off in a debate."  More: "But already, there are questions about the wisdom of Mr. Thompson's television and Internet tactics, his late entry and the decision not to participate in the debate. On CNN, he was being called a 'no show,' and in New Hampshire, there was outright disappointment."

The Washington Post: "Thompson's long-awaited announcement brings a potentially formidable candidate into the Republican race. His Southern roots, conservative message and celebrity appeal from movies and television have already pushed him into second place in most national polls, behind Giuliani. But Thompson's late start leaves him well behind his rivals in organizing his campaign in early-voting states."

The Boston Globe writes that his "unusual" campaign launch "will either go down in political history as a brilliant strategic stroke or a classic blunder."

Interestingly, as the Boston Globe notes, Thompson's video announcement singled out Clinton, by name, "declaring that Republicans don't want 'another Clinton victory. Our country needs us to win next year, and I'm ready to lead that effort.'"

New Hampshire GOP chair Fergus Cullen didn't have great things to say about Thompson's decision to skip the debate. "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," Cullen said.