There's nothing complex about Tommy Thompson's road map to the White House.
"I intend to win Iowa," said Thompson.
His plan for winning the nation's first caucus is equally simple: Spend more time in the state than any of his competitors.
"I've always been the underdog and I've always outworked," said Thompson. "That's why I've been in Iowa every single week since the first of December. People say you've been here so long you're going to have to start paying taxes."
Selling his strategy
Thompson typically holds three or four events in Iowa each week, often in rural towns. He'll talk over pancakes or coffee with a dozen or so folks at each stop.
He frequently focuses on welfare reform and health care, two issues he championed as governor from 1987 to 2001 in neighboring Wisconsin and as head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In courting activists, Thompson stresses his Midwestern roots and rural background. He comes from tiny Elroy, Wis., where his father ran a gas station and grocery store.
Thompson described Elroy as "a city so small that you can call somebody and get a wrong number and still talk for half an hour."
As people get to know him, Thompson said they buy into his strategy.
"I'm running as a candidate from Wisconsin, a governor from Wisconsin who spends all of his spare time in Iowa," said Thompson. "I don't believe a Republican can get elected next year as president of the United States without carrying Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. I believe I'm the strongest candidate to do that."
Others don't share Thompson's confidence.
Des Moines lawyer Steve Roberts, a member of the Republican National Committee, said Thompson made his long-shot effort even harder when he told a Jewish group Monday that earning money is "part of the Jewish tradition." He later apologized for the remark.
"I think it's an unfortunate comment," Roberts said. "He can't afford many of these things."
Focusing on the caucusers
Thompson dismisses polls in which he barely registers, far behind his better known and financed rivals.
"It is who is going to get to the caucuses," said Thompson. "It's about 100,000 folks who are going to get to the caucuses and who can target them."
Even though the Iowa caucuses are nearly nine months away, Thompson is under the gun to build support before a high-profile straw poll set for Aug. 11, Roberts noted. Those who don't fare well in that test will be pressured to drop out of the race, something three candidates did in the 2000 election cycle.
"The straw poll shortens the time for building an organization and a lot of it will be can he be competitive in that," said Roberts. "That's four months away and it cuts his organizing time in half."
Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford agreed that Thompson faces long odds, but he said caucus results can be surprising.
"It's an uphill battle, but lightning can strike," said Goldford. "Anyone who does better than expected is going to get a big boost."
Thompson could benefit greatly by a good showing in the caucus because expectations for his campaign are so low, Goldford said.