Former senator Fred Thompson made his long-awaited leap into the race for the Republican presidential nomination last night, stealing attention from a GOP debate by announcing his candidacy to on The Tonight Show. “I am running for president of the United States,” he told talk-show host Jay Leno.

The other Republican candidates needled Thompson—an actor best known for playing a prosecutor on NBC’s Law and Order—for appearing in Hollywood instead of at the New Hampshire debate.
“Maybe we’re up past his bedtime,” said Sen. John McCain.

The other candidates should be glad to have Thompson aboard, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “His entry brings adrenaline and new competition to the race, and our guess is that the ultimate nominee will be better for it.” And Thompson has a real shot at the nomination. The two front-runners—Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney—“have their strengths,” but so far there is no “dominant candidate.”

“Thompson seemed excited” about finally launching his campaign, said Mike Allen on The Politico. He says he’s not worried about waiting so long to get started. But he’ll have to raise lots of money—fast—and put the staff shakeups that plagued his “pre-season” maneuvers if he hopes to catch up to a field that has been at this for months.

Thompson moves at his own pace, said Saritha Prabhu in The Tennessean. And it was evident in the wait for his announcement. 'While other candidates have been furiously fund-raisin', meetin'-and-greetin', wolfing down greasy diner food, kissing babies, and being all things to all people for months, our man from Tennessee has been taking it s-l-o-w.” That only reinforced the “Fred-is-lazy perception.” It makes you wonder, “In the event of a terrorist attack, would he be slow to react, to organize, to lead?”