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Giuliani staking it all on the Sunshine State

The former New York City mayor is spending more time in states that go to the polls in late January and early February, banking on a strong showing in places that will play a larger role in this year's primary cycle than in years past.

Talking to a small group of voters beside the home of a local supporter, periodically walks backward and puts his hands atop an outdoor fireplace.

"I'm just getting warmed up," he says, as he rubs his hands together.

Indeed, his late November inaugural campaign bus tour almost seems like an opening act, not the midstride approach most candidates have already mastered in the first primary state. While Giuliani staffers were quick to note the bus tour was Giuliani's 20th visit to New Hampshire in 2007, one could not help but notice it had gotten significantly colder since the last time Giuliani was in the state -- 18 days ago, nearly an eternity in this front-loaded primary calendar.

While other candidates have become regular presences in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, an appearance from Giuliani remains rare. He has made trips in recent weeks to Florida, New Jersey, Missouri, Illinois and other states that many of the other White House contenders haven't visited yet. In part, Giuliani is following the money, holding public events in cities he is visiting primarily to raise campaign cash.

But the former New York City mayor is also spending more time in states that go to the polls in late January and early February, banking on a strong showing in places that will play a larger role in this year's primary cycle than in years past. Even if one candidate emerges as the front-runner after Iowa and New Hampshire, Giuliani campaign officials believe they will have just begun to fight.

"Everyone seems to be, obviously, focused on the traditional path of winning the early states and then having momentum throughout," campaign manager Michael DuHaime told reporters last month. "I think what we see is there's a possibility of two paths."

Giuliani's path focuses squarely on a strong victory in Florida on Jan. 29. The state will be the largest delegate contest in January -- even if the Republican Party strips half of the state's delegates for holding an early contest -- and is a better constituency for Giuliani than Iowa or New Hampshire.

"It represents a cross-section of the United States, people who have moved from the Northeast and the Midwest," said Bill McCollum, the state attorney general and the Giuliani campaign state chair. Giuliani campaigned for President Bush in Florida in 2004, reaching out primarily to transplanted New Yorkers.

A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found Giuliani garnering 38 percent of the state's GOP support, leading former Massachusetts Gov. by more than 20 points. The poll, conducted in late November, had a margin of error of 3 percent.

Campaign aides believe a big win in Florida could catapult Giuliani to a strong showing on Feb. 5, when more than 15 states will go to the polls. They include states that are more prone to like Giuliani as well, including California, Illinois, Missouri and the New York tri-state area.

Right now, Giuliani is ahead in national polls. The latest Gallup/USA Today poll shows Giuliani with 25 percent of Republican support, with a three-way tie for second between former Arkansas Gov. (16 percent), former Tennessee Sen. (15 percent) and Arizona Sen. (15 percent). The poll has a 3 percent margin of error.

But focusing on later primary states means Giuliani could incur almost a month of bad press if he has a poor showing in the early states. Some analysts believe another candidate, perhaps Romney, could emerge as the front-runner by then if he decisively wins both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Giuliani campaign officials have stressed they will be in a strong position after the early contests, because no delegates will be officially awarded in Iowa and the New Hampshire allotment will be proportional, with any candidate garnering more than 10 percent of the vote winning some delegates.

But analysts say the actual delegate number is not the issue.

"In the intervening month, other candidates will be getting all the attention, all the momentum," said Rachel Paine Caufield, associate professor of political science and international relations at Drake University in Des Moines. "While other candidates will be seen as having momentum, [Giuliani] can be seen as being stuck."

The schedule does allow him more time to recover, though, with three weeks between New Hampshire and Florida. (Michigan goes to the polls on Jan. 15 and South Carolina and Nevada vote on Jan. 19.)

And Giuliani could also benefit from two primary races going on at the same time. The Democratic battle between , and has garnered so much media attention that changes in the Republican nomination dynamic could be a secondary story.

McCollum said keeping expectations low for Giuliani in the early states will minimize the potential damage. When asked whether poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire could hurt Giuliani's lead in Florida, he conceded it would "make a small difference."

"But I think the expectation of him not doing well there is already out there," he said, likening the expectations game to the stock market. DuHaime told reporters that Giuliani's leads in Florida and some Feb. 5 states were so large they were "momentum-proof."

Giuliani has not entirely written off New Hampshire, as his bus tour on Thanksgiving weekend showed. He has also debuted four television ads in the state. But McCollum said he expects to see Giuliani in the Sunshine State a few times in December as well.

"He knows that Florida is the pivotal state for him," he said. "He's known that for months."