Republicans Stake Out Unique Paths to White House

The Republican presidential hopefuls agree on plenty: They all want lower taxes and a strong national defense. They idolize the late President Reagan, and they all say they can't wait to take on Democratic front-runner New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But when it comes to how they're running their campaigns, the major candidates are taking vastly different paths to the GOP nomination.

As they cope with a scrambled primary calendar, in a year with no heir apparent to the Republican throne, they are combining campaign messaging with geography in ways that will test the traditional equations of presidential politics.

"There are circumstances today that just haven't been present in previous Republican campaigns, and they lend themselves toward different strategies," said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist who is not affiliated with any of the presidential campaigns. "In a race that's so fluid, we'll learn a lot from which strategy prevails."

Iowa Goes First but Isn't Central to Every Strategy

The Iowa Republican Party's expected announcement today that the GOP Iowa caucuses will be held Jan. 3 will begin to bring finality to a chaotic primary schedule.

But for months, the presidential candidates have already been adjusting strategies and messages based on which state votes when — all with the goal of nailing down enough convention delegates to seal the nomination.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is taking the most traditional path. He is focusing intensely on the earliest states to vote: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan, the state he grew up in.

His advisers refer to it as a "kindling" strategy; they're hoping that a strong early showing will light a fire that spreads to the big states that vote Feb. 5. To that end, he's already spent $12 million on television ads, mostly in the early voting states.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is testing out a virtually opposite strategy. He's not spending nearly as much time or resources in the early states.

Instead, he's calculating that he can rack up big delegate margins Feb. 5, when several huge states cast their ballots, including New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Giuliani has yet to run a single television ad, even though he's raised slightly more money than Romney.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, meanwhile, is focusing his meager resources on winning New Hampshire, where the first-in-the-nation primary has been a source of momentum for candidates in years past.

McCain won the New Hampshire primary in 2000, and he knows that anything less than a repeat could dash his hopes in 2008, because he has far less in his campaign kitty than his main rivals.

And former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, a latecomer to the GOP race, is trying out something of a hybrid strategy: He's hoping for solid results in influential early Southern states, including South Carolina and Florida.

And he's hoping the primary race lasts long enough for him to take advantage of his status as the only top-tier Southerner.

Republican Race Wide Open

In most previous years, the Republican nomination has been fought out along fairly predictable lines. Big battles ensue in the early voting states, with challengers hoping to capture momentum to carry them into Super Tuesday by upsetting front-runners.

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