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By Jay Cost

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On the Republican Itinerary

A few months back I put together an analysis of Rudy Giuliani's campaign schedule. This enabled me to conclude that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, Giuliani had not recently decided to campaign in New Hampshire. Instead, his strategy had been largely consistent - mixing trips to the Granite State and the states of Super Tuesday.

I would like to update and expand this analysis now. Today, I am going to review all five major Republican candidates. In so doing, I hope to tease out some insights into how each campaign organization views the race. This analysis shall cover candidate visits from November 1 through yesterday - excluding fundraising events and debates. All data was obtained at the Washingtonpost.com.

We will start with Giuliani and Romney. From a travel perspective, they are the most interesting campaigns. Not only do they have the most money, they are also viable in the most states. So, it is most interesting to see how they choose to use their time.

First, we should note that Romney simply campaigns more than Guiliani. Romney has held 78 functions since November 1. He has taken only 12 days off during this period. Giuliani, on the other hand, has held 45 functions since November 1. He has taken 19 days off.

In some respects, Giuliani's campaign schedule has closely matched his poll numbers. He tends to avoid states in which he is losing badly, as well as states in which he is winning by a large margin. So, for instance - he has made only four appearances in Iowa since November 1. His last appearance there was on November 14. Interestingly, he was in Des Moines on December 3 for the NPR debate, but he did not schedule any further events in Iowa. The same goes for this week. He was in-and-out just for the debate.

Relatedly, he has been largely absent from Florida. He has visited the Sunshine State just four times since November 1. Given the importance of Florida to Giuliani's campaign strategy - there are two inferences we might draw from his absence. Perhaps the Giuliani campaign senses that its position in Florida is strong. His lead there is as large as it has been since May. On the other hand, perhaps the Giuliani campaign intuits that Florida is not yet "ripe." Florida voters might not be paying enough attention right now to make campaign stops worth his effort. In this scenario, his time would be better spent in a state like New Hampshire. My guess is that both answers have some validity to them. The Giuliani campaign senses that it has laid a good groundwork in Florida, and so it can save its trips there for later.

But in other respects, Giuliani's campaign itinerary has left me puzzled. In particular, Giuliani has made no stops in Michigan since November 1. He is up in the RCP average, but not by a large amount. I have no answers to this puzzle. I have only questions. Does the Giuliani campaign know something that the poll numbers are not telling us? Perhaps his position is stronger than the polls show, thus enabling him to ignore Michigan. Perhaps it is weaker, thus making trips there not worth his while. Are Michiganders like Floridians - not yet on-line in the same way that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are? Does the Giuliani campaign simply not regard Michigan as a game changer?

Just as puzzling is Giuliani's de-emphasis of South Carolina, which has merited just two appearances since November 1. South Carolina is legitimately a five-way contest between Romney, Giuliani, McCain, Huckabee, and Thompson. And yet Guiliani does not seem to be campaigning there very hard. All of the questions that we asked about Michigan can be asked once again - with one additional hypothesis. Perhaps the Giuliani campaign thinks that, regardless of what happens in South Carolina, it cannot lose. In a five-man race, it is unlikely that the winner will win by enough to develop any momentum.

So - where has Giuliani been spending his time? Essentially, he has been toggling between New Hampshire, where he has made 18 public appearances since November 1, and the Super Tuesday states, where he has made 11 public appearances. This is consistent with the hypothesis about Giuliani's campaign I made in October. It is striking a balance between the early states and the states of February 5. This strategy has come into better focus now - whereas Giuliani was largely spreading his time between Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and South Carolina when I last wrote, it now appears that New Hampshire is the focus of his efforts.

Romney's campaign is less mysterious and much more systematic than the Giuliani campaign. It has done what it claimed all along it would do: attempt to build momentum in advance of Super Tuesday. And so, witness the near-perfect balance in Romney's campaign schedule:

Iowa: 26 appearances
New Hampshire: 22 appearances
Michigan: 5 appearances
Nevada: 4 appearances
South Carolina: 4 appearances
Florida: 12 appearances

This makes perfect sense. There are no anomalies here. The Romney campaign has balanced the early states precisely according to their prestige and their places on the calendar. Accordingly, the bulk of its efforts have been geared toward Iowa and New Hampshire (48 out of 78 appearances have been made there). Meanwhile, the minor states that separate New Hampshire from Florida have received 13 appearances in all. Florida has received 12. Whereas the Giuliani campaign itinerary leaves us with questions - there should be no doubt what the Romney campaign is attempting to do.

What interests me is whether and how either candidate's schedule will change because of the emergence of Mike Huckabee. Most of my data set covers the period before Huckabee opened up a lead in Iowa and took a strong second place in the national polls. It remains to be seen if and how Huckabee will influence the choices of Giuliani and Romney. I wonder in particular if the Romney campaign had hoped to have Iowa "locked up" by this point - and therefore could begin to invest its time in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. It is, of course, too early to do anything but speculate. I will update this analysis prior to the Iowa Caucuses so that we can get a sense of any late changes in the strategies of the candidates. In the meantime - I would note that Romney has been in Iowa for most of the week.

As I indicated above - I ran a similar analysis on the three GOP candidates whose campaigns are more regionally based: McCain, Thompson, and Huckabee.

McCain's activities are largely unsurprising. His campaign has made 63 public appearances since November 1 (excluding debates). This is more than Giuliani and almost as many as Romney - which is impressive, as McCain is the only major Republican candidate who is not unemployed! By and large, his campaign has emphasized the two states in which it is strongest. McCain has made 32 appearances in New Hampshire, and 15 in South Carolina. Prior to this week, he had not appeared in Iowa since early November - though he did schedule three events around the debate.

There is one quirk with McCain's strategy. I am surprised that the campaign has not spent more time in Michigan, which provided McCain with a big win in 2000. The Democrats, as we all know, are avoiding Michigan. Most of them will not even be on the ballot. Importantly, Michigan is an open primary. Team McCain might be able to count on independents coming to support him as they did eight years ago, given that the Democratic contest probably will not draw their attention as many expect it to in New Hampshire. And yet, it has not held a public event in Michigan for weeks.

Fred Thompson has made only 14 public appearances since November 1 - half of which have been in South Carolina. He has made but two public appearances in Iowa since Halloween. Thus, it seems to me that his decision to throw everything to Iowa is a tad ad hoc. There is no indication from Thompson's schedule that his campaign had taken Iowa so seriously. Is this a recent realization? Did the campaign once think that it could pin its hopes on South Carolina, but has since changed its mind? If it did, it was wise to do so. I do not think it can survive for two weeks and four major contests without placing.

Huckabee has made 44 public appearances since November 1 - fewer than Romney, McCain, or Giuliani. Honestly, this surprised me. I assumed that - as an upstart/insurgent candidate without much money - Huckabee would really be pounding the pavement. Not so much. I was also surprised by the distribution of campaign appearances. I assumed that Iowa would dominate his public itinerary. Again, not so. By my count, Huckabee has made just nine public appearances in the Hawkeye State since Halloween. In contrast, he has made 12 appearances in South Carolina, and 15 appearances in New Hampshire. This is not a huge surprise: Huckabee has visited South Carolina and New Hampshire many times since the beginning of the year. What is surprising is that Iowa has been deemphasized a bit. Whereas for the entire campaign season, Iowa has seen more Huckabee visits than any other state - in the last 45 days, it has received the third most.

So, what inferences can we draw from this? By and large - it serves as confirmation of our previous suspicions. But there are a few new insights to be had. I think there is no doubt that the Giuliani campaign has abandoned Iowa. I also think there is no doubt that the Thompson campaign's decision to embrace Iowa was a recent decision, largely inconsistent with its previous trips. We'll have to watch Romney's schedule this month - and see whether it is narrower because of the threat of Huckabee. Conversely, it will be interesting to see if Huckabee continues to emphasize New Hampshire and South Carolina. Does he think he can get a big boost in the Granite State from an Iowa win? Perhaps he does. Finally - I wonder about the choices of McCain and Giuliani. Hardly any trips to Michigan from either of them. That seems quite strange to me. What are those two up to? One would think that Romney's troubles in Iowa make vigorous campaigns in Michigan seem more worthwhile, especially with those two - but so far, very little attention has been paid there.

-Jay Cost