With a surge of radio advertisements, telephone calls and mailings, Rudolph W. Giuliani is stepping up his efforts to compete in the Iowa Republican caucuses, complicating Mitt Romney’s effort to nail down a clean victory here and underscoring the fluid nature of the contest less than seven weeks from the voting.
Mr. Giuliani’s advisers have tried for months to dampen expectations about how well he would do in Iowa, suggesting he was campaigning only nominally here and focusing on later states. But Iowa Republicans described a more concerted if below-the-radar effort that indicates Mr. Giuliani is looking to post a surprise showing in this state to undercut Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, both running strongly in early Iowa polls.
In one sign of this, the Giuliani campaign held an hourlong session here this week to train supporters in the complicated procedures for the party caucuses Jan. 3.
The moves have come at a time of growing uncertainty in the Iowa Republican contest, with Mr. Huckabee and former Senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee stepping up their spending and organizing. And there are growing signs that it will be largely fought over illegal immigration, the issue that was named as a top concern by Iowa Republican caucusgoers in a New York Times/CBS News poll last week and that Senator John McCain of Arizona has blamed for his inability to compete seriously here.
Mr. Romney, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Thompson, in mailing or television advertisements, highlighted illegal immigration as a major problem facing the country.
Threat to Romney
The developments pose a particular threat to Mr. Romney, who has spent more time and money here than any of the other Republican candidates. A loss or a shaky win here could weaken him going into New Hampshire; his strategy is based on winning both states.
At this point, Mr. Romney’s aides said, he has no intention of directly taking on either Mr. Giuliani or Mr. Huckabee with television advertisements — attacks in a multicandidate race can be risky, especially since Iowa voters often turn away from candidates they view as negative. Mr. Romney’s aides said that starting next month, he would intensify the heavy schedule of Iowa visits and television advertisements that has been a bedrock of his campaign. Unlike Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Romney competed in, and won, the straw poll here last summer.
But in one clear sign of concern, Mr. Romney has in recent days sent a mailing to Republican households that was intended to raise concerns about Mr. Giuliani’s record on immigration when he was mayor of New York. “Welcome to New York City!” the mailing reads, the words implanted on a jarring photograph of Times Square at night. “Sanctuary Cities are Magnets for Illegal immigration.”
Mr. Giuliani responded with his own mailing to caucusgoers, headlined with a pledge, “I will end illegal immigration and secure our borders without granting amnesty.”
Adding to the unsettled atmosphere here, Mr. McCain is now planning to spend a minimal number of days in Iowa in December, effectively writing off the state, an associate said. That could be at least marginally helpful to Mr. Giuliani since both he and Mr. McCain have been trying to win over centrist Republican voters.
Mr. Thompson’s aides, noting the rise of Mr. Huckabee in polls, said he would aggressively challenge Mr. Huckabee’s conservative credentials. In particular, they pointed to Mr. Huckabee’s support as governor for awarding state college scholarships to the children of illegal immigrants, a position they argued could be very damaging to Mr. Huckabee in this of all states. “With a pop-up of his numbers comes a review of his record,” said Bob Haus, the Iowa state director of Mr. Thompson’s campaign. “That will be his test over the next 49 days: does the charming speaker on the stump match up with his record in Arkansas, on immigration, on spending, on taxes. These are the basic issues that the caucusgoers are concerned about. Mike Huckabee is the equivalent of John Edwards in a Republican suit.”
Mr. Huckabee’s campaign manager, Chip Saltzman, dismissed the criticism, and said Mr. Huckabee was going to run on his record as governor. “Fred Thompson has nowhere else to go; he was second when he announced for president and now he’s fifth,” Mr. Saltzman said. “He’s attacking everybody every day. We’re just one of many.”
The prospect of a three-way split of the conservative vote among Mr. Romney, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Thompson also provides an opening for Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Thompson won the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee last week. But the development that has most intrigued Republicans here is watching Mr. Giuliani attempt to compete without raising expectations that he could win. “He is trying to run a stealth campaign,” said Doug Gross, the chairman of Mr. Romney’s Iowa campaign.
Mr. Giuliani’s advisers said the possibility of a split among conservatives had led them to believe that he could post a relatively strong showing here that even if short of a victory could deny Mr. Romney the chance to rally Republicans around him heading into New Hampshire and the contests that follow.
Mr. Giuliani’s campaign has methodically played down its interest in Iowa. He has spent 16 days here this year, compared with 57 days by Mr. Romney, according to statistics kept by the Iowa Democratic Party. He did not compete in the Iowa straw poll this summer, and has yet to run any television advertising here (he began running commercials in New Hampshire this week).
But it is typical these days to turn on a country music or talk radio station and hear an advertisement for Mr. Giuliani, typically what appears to be a snippet of Mr. Giuliani talking at a campaign event about illegal immigration. Republicans said they regularly receive mailings and telephone calls from Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. He is in regular contact with talk show hosts and influential political reporters.
“I would say I’ve talked more on the phone with Rudy Giuliani than with the other candidates,” said Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa, noting that she was able to interview the other candidates more in person.
Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney have the same number of full-time employees, about 12 (though Mr. Romney also has a network of part-time paid consultants), and each has two offices. At Drake University this week, about 30 people came out to sit for an hour while Mr. Giuliani’s staff handed out packets of information as part of a training session in how to participate in the caucus. The decision to hold the caucus-training session was seen by many Republicans here as the surest confirmation yet that Mr. Giuliani was playing.
“Giuliani is putting increased emphasis on Iowa, and he is getting good, solid Republican support,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican, who has yet to endorse any of the candidates. “I’ve seen evidence of them spending more time in Iowa. I’ve seen evidence of him getting people enthused: I’ve had calls from Giuliani supporters in Iowa — and these have been supporters of mine — that they would like me to get involved with him.”
Although Mr. Huckabee appears to be building up support here, he is at a huge financial disadvantage compared to Mr. Romney, who is spending money on building the organization needed to get voters out on caucus night. In an effort to compensate for that, Mr. Huckabee, a Baptist minister, is tapping into the extensive network of families who do home schooling, a significant force in Iowa conservative circles, as well into the network of churches here. He is appearing at a series of “Renewal Project” conferences in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which are expected to attract a few hundred pastors in each state.
David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Washington.