The plan was (and is) to roll this out tonight at the start of the debate, then informally announce on Leno right after midnight just as a 15-minute video is going live on his website. I guess they couldn’t wait, though: both Jim Geraghty and Marc Ambinder just posted copies of this spot, presumably leaked to them by the campaign. Contrary to popular belief, says Ambinder, this isn’t going to air during the debate but during the last block of commercials for “The O’Reilly Factor.” Smart thinking: given the size of Bill’s audience and the creeping boredom with the debates leading people to tune out, he may get more viewers doing it that way.

They shed another staffer today and Geraghty says the secretive yet influential Arlington Group might be about to abandon ship. (Update: See below for more.) And then there’s this:

Roll Call columnist Stu Rothenberg already has an opinion: Thompson blew his best chance by not getting into the race in the spring or summer. “In delaying his entry into the Republican race, Thompson has looked indecisive and weak,” writes Rothenberg in in his Monday column (subscription only). “He has lost potential supporters and contributors to other campaigns. And he has limited the strategic options of his campaign. But maybe more than anything else, he gave an opening first to Romney and more recently to Huckabee that neither would have had.”

More on Mitt in a minute. Stand by for updates.

Update: Again via Ambinder, here’s Mitt’s return of serve — a new ad set to run this week in the heart of Thompson Country, i.e. South Carolina. It’s called “Energy,” which is an antonym, of course, for … laziness. The goal is to prove that Fred’s beatable even in the south and position Mitt as the true social con choice ahead of the showdown with Giuliani in Florida on January 29.

Update: Already linked in headlines, but be sure to read Tom Bevan’s enjoyably pissy shot at Hugh Hewitt and the other Fred-bashing water-carriers for Mitt. I especially liked the pointed inclusion of HH in the MSM. But let’s go easy on the term “fragging,” okay?

Update: Geraghty follows up on the Arlington Group. One of the things I most like about Fred is one of the things they like least. Ah, the libertarian(ish)/social con divide.

This individual said the Arlington Group members have not been able to agree on a candidate. “There has been a great deal of excitement about the possibility of a Thompson campaign; many of us are very happy about how clearly he criticized and called for the overturn of Roe v. Wade. But there is concern that the federalist constitutional amendment that he leans toward on marriage just wouldn’t work. How can you have a couple married in Massachusetts and then, when they move to Tennessee they’re not married anymore? It just seems to our legal people that America is going to end up with one definition of marriage. That’s what we want, actually, and we want that definition to be the traditional one… We hope to convince all the candidates that on this issue federalism is a not as high a value philosophically as making sure marriage has traditional configuration.”

The source goes on to hint that they’d probably be leaning towards Huckabee if they thought he could win. Which he can’t.