updated 7/9/2007 4:34:01 PM ET 2007-07-09T20:34:01

The presidential contest is assumed to be a cash cow for early voting states. If so, it probably will produce skim milk at best.

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The fluid nature of the 2008 campaign, with candidates scattered across a larger field of competition, is making for an unpredictable balance sheet for towns where hotels and pizza shops fill up for a political event while police overtime budgets stretch thin providing security.

The contenders are certainly spending millions - somewhere.

Yet their strategies shift with the winds, taking big dollars with them and leaving nothing certain except that things will get busy near the day of decision.

The Iowa Republican Party, for one, probably took a multimillion-dollar hit when two of the three top GOP candidates, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, decided to sit out an August straw poll that is a prime source of cash to help the party pay for the caucuses. Giuliani's campaign estimated it would have cost its operations $3 million to compete.

Federal figures show that 10 Democratic candidates spent $4.5 million on Iowa businesses and staff in the last primary. That is a fraction of the benefits estimated by boosters who liberally interpret the value of indirect spending. Advertising, a huge expense for the candidates in every competitive state, often is produced far away.

Presidential debate or NCAA Final Four
The economic benefits are illusive in South Carolina. The state is taking over operation of the primary voting from the parties, at a cost to taxpayers of $2.2 million, not including security for the candidates.

Columbia Mayor Bob Coble estimated the GOP debate last month generated $4 million locally, half the economic impact of a home college football game at the University of South Carolina.

"We had people spending a lot of money on hotels, food, catering," Coble said. "Every candidate has a party."

Restaurant owners like these events.

"It brings people that have big wallets and even bigger egos and they can fill up a bar quickly," said Mike Evans, general manager at Liberty Tap Room & Grill.

Such windfalls tend to be here today, gone tomorrow.

College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner, looking back at the 2000 GOP debate held on campus, said little long-term benefit came of it and far less than if the school's basketball team made it into the NCAA's Final Four.

A political gathering is "not even like a sports event or cultural event because there's not much infrastructure that's built around it that stays there," he said.

Candidates starting earlier in New Hampshire
New Hampshire, like Iowa and South Carolina, has been a hive of early activity, bringing an obvious boost to the hospitality industry and more, especially when a debate comes to town.

The leading candidates rented New Hampshire office space in early spring, several months sooner than in the last campaign, and hotels say business from the campaign is strong. So far, candidates have been in New Hampshire as often as in the past, and starting earlier.

Whether that will last is anyone's guess. Absent a debate that brings candidates, their entourages and media together in one spot, the benefits of the stumping appear modest when spread around and are all but impossible to measure.

Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida are planning their contests in mid- to late January 2008. Hard on their heels are contests in 15 to 20 states, all on Feb. 5.

Candidates campaigning for trendsetting victories in the first states also have to devote time and money for that huge second wave.

Dave Roederer, Iowa chairman for McCain, said candidates cannot spend as much time in the state as before.

"We are going to have Super Tuesday," he said, and "the number of votes involved there is going to way outshadow Iowa and New Hampshire put together."

Early campaigning: a mixed blessing?
Dave Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, said: "We have to expect a very powerful reduction in total spending in Iowa because the candidates now have to spread their money very strategically across many venues."

In Algona, in northern Iowa, Republican Theresa DeLange was happy when Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton visited her pizza shop. "We made over 100 pizzas," she said. The Premier Pizza restaurant packed in 250 people; many waited outside to shake Clinton's hand.

But there are costs, too.

When Clinton visited Davenport in January, it cost the city more than $5,000 for police assistance. A visit by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in May cost $1,778. So far they are the only candidates protected by the Secret Service, which calls on local law enforcement to supplement security when the candidates come to town.

In the six months before the 2004 election, Davenport paid more than $104,000 for security provided by police and for use of the department's vehicles.

Security costs can be a sore point throughout the battleground states, during the primaries and beyond. In the last campaign, many local officials billed campaigns for reimbursement but often did not receive it because there is no obligation under federal law for candidates to cover local security expenses.

In 2003, Hunts Point, Wash., with fewer than 500 people, spent $22,000 to rent police officers from nearby towns when President Bush attended a fundraiser at a billionaire's home, The Seattle Times reported.

For this campaign, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford told the state Law Enforcement Division and the Highway Patrol to absorb security and public safety costs within existing budgets and not seek more money from the Legislature.

Work schedules were adjusted to meet the demands of the Columbia GOP debate but the Highway Patrol spent $9,200 for overtime during the Democratic debate in Orangeburg.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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