PLYMOUTH, New Hampshire (Reuters) - As most of his rivals fight for the national spotlight in Iowa, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is boosting his campaign in New Hampshire in a last-ditch gamble days before the start of a close race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Struggling to hold a national lead among Republicans, Giuliani has maintained a low-key presence in Iowa, whose January 3 caucuses officially kick off a battle for the Republican nomination. Instead, he has focused much of his firepower on big states like Florida and the 22 states holding “Super Tuesday” contests on February 5.
He has also held fewer public events than his top rivals in New Hampshire, whose nominating primary on January 8 is the second big contest early in the presidential race.
A strong performance in Iowa and New Hampshire traditionally can spark enough momentum to carry other contests in the state-by-state process to pick the Democratic and Republican candidates who will face off in the presidential election on November 4.
On Sunday, Giuliani expressed confidence in his chances.
“I’m tested and ready,” he told about 200 voters in a hall for elderly citizens in Plymouth, a town cradled by New Hampshire’s snow-capped White Mountains.
As he often does, Giuliani peppered his speech with references to national security and his experience as New York’s mayor during the September 11 attacks.
“We’ve got to remain on the offense against Islamic terrorists,” he said several times the appearance, one of three events during a one-day visit to New Hampshire.
In New Hampshire, Giuliani has held about 74 public events since entering the race this year, compared to 113 by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and 97 by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who are neck-and-neck at the top of most New Hampshire opinion polls.
The figures, tallied by nh2008.blogspot.com/, exclude business events closed to the public.
Political analysts and some voters say the strategy could be risky for “America’s mayor,” as Giuliani became known after the September 11 attacks.
A poor performance in New Hampshire and Iowa could hurt Giuliani’s efforts to build nationwide momentum at a time when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who leads polls in Iowa, and Romney, who leads in New Hampshire, pose serious challenges to Giuliani’s nationwide front-runner status, they said.
“Giuliani’s strategy here is puzzling. It’s an on-again, off-again relationship with New Hampshire,” said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political science professor.
“It really seemed like this was a state that was made for him as a moderate and a fiscal conservative. I think the door was open for him but it hasn’t happened.”
In Iowa, Giuliani is fourth in most polls. He campaigned there on Saturday but held mostly closed-door events.
Wayne Semprini, Giuliani’s New Hampshire campaign chairman, cautioned not to write off Giuliani in early contests.
He said on Sunday the ex-mayor was pouring more resources into New Hampshire, doubling the number of full-time staff in the past week to about 20 with plans to at least triple the number over the next week.
“Don’t be surprised if we surprise a few people during the last sprint,” he told Reuters. “He’ll spend New Year’s Eve in New York and then he’s back up here for the duration.”
Forbes magazine editor Steve Forbes, a Republican presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000 and now national co-chairman of Giuliani’s campaign, said he expected Giuliani to “do credibly in the earlier contests.”
“He’s been devoting resources, time and resources in the not only the early states but the later states so that he’s ready,” Forbes told CNN. “For example, if Huckabee does not win in Iowa, he’s finished. If John McCain does not win in New Hampshire, he’s finished. Same with Mitt Romney.”
Some voters questioned Giuliani’s commitment to New Hampshire, where Romney maintains a summer house and where McCain came from behind in 2000 to win the presidential primary and go on to pose a challenge to George W. Bush.
“I think Giuliani took a big risk and he made a big mistake here but hopefully he will survive,” said Patricia Dykes, 44, a Giuliani supporter from Massachusetts who attended the campaign event on Sunday while visiting her mother in New Hampshire.
Additional reporting by Mark Egan; Editing by Bill Trott