Former Senator Fred Thompson has made it official. Thompson is now one of nine contenders seeking the Republican Party's presidential nomination next year. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

In keeping with the new style of politics for the 2008 presidential election, Thompson chose to announce his White House bid on an entertainment program, NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

"I am running for President of the United States," announced Thompson.

He also released a video announcement on his campaign Website.

"My friends, I come to you today to tell you that I intend to run for president," he said. "I feel deeply that I am doing it for the right reasons. I love my country and I am concerned about its future."

Thompson skipped a Republican candidates debate in the early primary state of New Hampshire, drawing some jabs from rivals including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"I think this is a nomination you have to earn, though," said Giuliani. "Nobody is going to give it to you, nobody is going to grant it to you."

The eight Republicans who took part in the debate argued over immigration, taxes and the war in Iraq.

President Bush's surge strategy in Iraq was the subject of this exchange between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Arizona Senator John McCain.

ROMNEY: "If the surge is working, then we are going to be able to start bringing back our troop levels."

MCCAIN: "The surge is working, sir."

ROMNEY: "That is just what I said."

MCCAIN: "It is working. No, not apparently. It is working."

This will probably be the last Republican debate without Fred Thompson.

Thompson is a former senator from Tennessee and is best known for his acting roles in film and on television. He supports the president on Iraq and hopes to appeal to social conservative voters still searching for a favorite among the Republican presidential contenders.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg was a recent guest on VOA's Encounter program.

"Many people who would like Ronald Reagan to run again think that Fred Thompson could be the next Ronald Reagan," said Rothenberg. "He is personable. He is likable. He is easy going."

But Thompson was expected to join the race months ago and has had problems raising money and keeping campaign staffers.

John Fortier monitors the presidential campaign at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"For some reason, he has waited on his campaign," he said. "He has gotten a lot of scrutiny, not raised as much money as we expected he would raise. So even his star has fallen a little bit. I think Republicans really are at a bit of a loss to figure out who they want."

Despite his relatively late entry into the race, Thompson was running in second or third place in most public opinion polls before he announced his candidacy.

Thompson enters a Republican field with no clear frontrunner. Former Mayor Giuliani has led in national polls for months, but former Governor Romney is leading in the critical early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire.