Rudy Giuliani, taking advantage of an accelerated primary calendar, has adopted an unorthodox campaign itinerary en route to what he hopes will be the Republican presidential nomination.
The former New York mayor is lavishing attention on Florida and California, two delegate-rich states with voters far more receptive to his moderate-to-liberal views. Giuliani is not slighting the early voting states — he plans to be in New Hampshire on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it's his first trip there in a month.
So while Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Sam Brownback were in Iowa last week, Giuliani visited a deli in Orlando, Fla., a town-hall meeting in Jacksonville and a NASCAR race in Daytona Beach. The week before, he turned up at a bagel shop in Irvine, Calif.
Some speculate that Giuliani is deliberately lowering expectations for his performance in Iowa, New Hampshire and another early voting state, South Carolina. Already, he is skipping an early test of strength, the Iowa straw poll in August, although the Giuliani campaign insists he will compete in the Jan. 14 caucuses.
Recent polls have shown Giuliani trailing Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"If they exceed expectations, all the better," said GOP consultant Tony Fabrizio. "If they don't, there is nothing lost, because they told everyone they weren't expecting to win anyway."
Political experts question the wisdom of such a strategy, wondering how a candidate who doesn't win or finish strongly in the early states can challenge someone else's momentum and recover on Feb. 5.
'History is not a straightjacket'
Traditionally, Republicans fiercely compete in the early contests and then turn their attention to other states. Even John McCain, bypassing Iowa when he ran against George W. Bush in 2000, fought hard in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Giuliani is not devoting the same level of staff or resources in those states as other candidates. Even a lesser-known foe, Kansas Sen. Brownback, has more staff in Iowa.
At the same time, Giuliani is focusing more on Florida and the Feb. 5 states than his rivals. In all, Giuliani has made 11 trips each to Florida and California, compared with five visits to New Hampshire and four to Iowa. He last visited New Hampshire June 12.
"That is fundamentally different than any strategy for capturing the nomination that has succeeded in the past," said Fabrizio, who was Bob Dole's pollster in the 1996 presidential campaign.
Some think Giuliani's gamble could pay off. His schedule reflects the big prizes at stake: Florida, which votes just weeks after Iowa and New Hampshire on Jan. 29, has 112 delegates. California, with its 173 delegates, votes with more than a dozen other states, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois, on Feb. 5. Iowa and New Hampshire have 32 delegates each.
"Just because something has never happened before, there's no reason why it can't happen now. History is a guide to the future, not a straitjacket," said GOP consultant Whit Ayres.
Will being 'unique' pay off?
The best scenario for such a strategy to succeed is if there are different winners in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Fabrizio said.
"The key to Giuliani's ultimate victory is that there be no one consensus conservative that emerges to challenge him; he needs more conservative candidates to split up the vote as you move to Feb. 5 and beyond," Fabrizio said.
Giuliani's campaign touts his fundraising performance, saying his strong showing — he has about $15 million in the bank — lets him pay attention now to Florida and the Feb. 5 states.
"This is a unique primary campaign that nobody has ever run before," Giuliani's campaign manager, Mike DuHaime, told reporters last week.
"We've never had so many big, and therefore expensive, states front-loaded as early as possible into the primaries," he said. "So having the resources to be flexible and be able to look at the early states, look at the Feb. 5 states, and decide where we can be most effective with our dollars is very important."
Among his top rivals, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has about $12 million, and McCain, an Arizona senator, has $2 million, according to recent campaign money reports.
Cash for advertising is critical to a Feb. 5 strategy. Much of the television advertising in Florida and the Feb. 5 states will happen well before the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire. If Giuliani wanted to advertise in all those states, he would need an estimated $14 million a week, Fabrizio said.
Advertising in Florida or California alone might cost as much as $5 million each.
Whether a Feb. 5 strategy works is uncertain given the unknowns of the 2008 campaign, which is happening earlier and is the most contested in half a century.
"It's a risky strategy," said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Iowa. "It might even be more likely that things unfold in ways that are more familiar to us, and that people who do well in Iowa and New Hampshire will be catapulted to the front of the line."