Dec. 18, 2007— -- CLIVE, Iowa -- As the Republican presidential candidates barnstorm Iowa with two weeks left before the Iowa caucuses, one candidate is noticeably absent.
The national front-runner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is not in Iowa this week. Giuliani's not competing to win in first-in-the-nation caucus state Iowa and first-in-the-nation primary state New Hampshire. Instead. he's focusing on big delegate-rich states that hold their primaries and caucuses later in the nomination process.
"You can win three or four primaries and lose California, and you're behind two to one," Giuliani told ABC News in a recent interview.
With more than 20 states holding their contests Feb. 5, Giuliani is trying to rewrite the rules of nomination politics.
"If you run the last election, you're going to lose this one. You've got to figure this one out. The person who wins this is going to be the one who did the best job of figuring this new one out," Giuliani said.
Look no further than the former mayor's number of visits to Iowa to see that he's pretty much ceding the state to his rivals. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts has held 161 events in Iowa. The GOP front-runner in the state, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has held 101 events. Giuliani has held 41.
The former mayor's Iowa campaign headquarters are modest too. Tucked between a small bar and a small realty company, a handful of Giuliani staffers work out of makeshift offices in a strip mall located outside of Des Moines that seems to reflect Giuliani's presence in the state and the way he has marginalized himself from the conversation here.
As Giuliani pursued this strategy he has dropped to third or fourth place in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Perhaps of greater concern for Giuliani is his steady drop in the national polls, from 53 percent in February to 26 percent today.
His greatest decline has been among men, conservatives and those following the race very closely -- voters who might be aware of some of his baggage. A danger for the former mayor -- his absence from a continued presence in these early states means that the media and his opponents are the ones deciding what voters are hearing about him.
Republican strategists and ABC News contributor Matthew Dowd believes Giuliani's strategy carries some risk. "His destiny will begin to be out of his control when the voting starts in Iowa as people go to the polls and a candidate wins," Dowd said. "He won't be able to dominate the news coverage."
Giuliani is counting on no one single opponent getting any momentum from early victories. With a Republican race this fluid, that is a possibility, but it has never happened before.
His rivals have different takes on Giuliani's strategy.
"It's kind of a risky philosophy," former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee told ABC News at a stop in Manchester, Iowa. "But you got to go with what you got. And if he doesn't see much prospect in these early states, it's better to say, 'I wasn't even trying' and move on to something else."
Avery Miller, Richard Coolidge, Matt Stuart with the Romney campaign and Christine Byun with the Thompson campaign contributed to this report.