MANCHESTER, N.H. – The increased attention Rudy Giuliani has been giving to New Hampshire doesn't seem to be paying off. The Republican still trails in the first-in-the-nation primary and also faces likely defeats in other early voting states.
Pinning his hopes on big states that come later in the primary season, the former New York mayor is struggling to regain momentum after a series of setbacks. The next month could provide a severe test for his unorthodox approach to winning the GOP nomination.
He's not giving up on New Hampshire yet. He returned Monday, telling an audience in Durham that he hoped they would give him a boost "right here in New Hampshire, where you've got one heck of an important primary coming up."
"I'll be spending some of my Christmas holiday here in New Hampshire, which I really look forward to. Maybe you'll even get a chance to see me ski," Giuliani said to laughter, before quickly adding, "No, you won't. We'll be here and we'll be working really hard to get your vote."
In November, after weeks of flooding mailboxes here with literature and airing radio commercials, Giuliani started running some $2.5 million in TV ads to court New Hampshire voters, and he visited repeatedly over a several-week span. Despite that effort, polls show him lagging Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, even as Arizona Sen. John McCain surges.
Given that lack of progress and to save money for later contests, Giuliani is scaling back his TV ads somewhat this week in the state. Aides say clutter on the airwaves during the holiday season was a factor and he may boost his television presence again. He plans to return to New Hampshire Friday.
"He tried to press a low taxes and fiscal conservative message here, but the core of his identity was still what he did on 9/11, and pocketbook issues have sort of trumped his national security card," said Frank Cohen, a political science professor at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., explaining Giuliani's woes here.
Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other early voting states never have figured prominently in Giuliani's strategy. It calls for securing victories in states that vote later and promise huge numbers of delegates to next summer's nominating convention, beginning with Florida on Jan. 29.
Giuliani has a wide lead in that state, and he hopes winning its 57 delegates will give him the delegate-count lead heading into the bigger-prize states that vote Feb. 5, including California, New York and Illinois.
Broadly, the race for the GOP nomination is in flux, and, at this point, no one candidate is positioned to run the table with multiple wins in states before Florida.
In Iowa, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who has risen in recent weeks, has an edge over Romney. Here in New Hampshire, Romney leads but McCain is giving chase while Giuliani has slipped. Michigan and Nevada are muddles; Huckabee leads in South Carolina, with four other candidates tightly bunched behind him.
Giuliani aides argue that such a volatile situation — and Huckabee's rise to the detriment of Romney — greatly benefits their boss. They say it's possible that different candidates could win the early states, making for a fractured contest and no one candidate riding a wave of momentum into Florida.
Beyond Florida, aides say Giuliani has double-digit leads in four states in which the winner takes all the delegates: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware. He also has an advantage in California, where delegates are divvied up by congressional districts. Plans call for Giuliani to start to run TV ads in Florida and some of the Feb. 5 states soon after Christmas.
It's unclear, however, whether losses in the early states, coupled with recent campaign troubles, could cripple Giuliani before those later, bigger states vote.
Until recently, he had ridden atop national polls all year and defied conventional wisdom; the thrice-married backer of abortion rights and gay rights showed tremendous staying power in a Republican Party in which conservatives dominate.
But Giuliani's seemingly Teflon coating sustained a series of dings this month, including some that called his character into question and undercut his contention that he's the strongest leader in the field.
"He's experiencing a patch of roughness but nothing fatal," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster unaligned in the race. "Campaigns always get tougher at the end, and that's more what this is about."
First, Giuliani's longtime friend and former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, was indicted on federal charges. Then, it was disclosed that as mayor Giuliani billed security expenses to obscure city offices while visiting his current wife as their extramarital affair began. He's also been facing questions anew about his consulting business, Giuliani Partners, whose clients include the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar.
Aides acknowledge the unpleasant month but say Giuliani has chosen to press ahead with his untested strategy rather than change course.
Thus, he gave a rare formal speech Saturday in Tampa, Fla., that was meant not only to put a troublesome stretch behind him but also to offer his closing argument for the primaries.
In it, Giuliani called for "leading a revitalized, 50-state Republican Party into the White House" — in line with his national strategy, unconventional as it is.