Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani has held forth as the Republican front-runner for months, and despite polls showing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee coming on strong, Giuliani is betting he'll win the race for party nominee.
He's got hurdles to get over, though. Giuliani trails rivals in the crucial early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
No Republican has won the presidential nomination — in more than 30 years — without winning in two of those three states.
But the Giuliani campaign is betting the early primary states won't matter as much in next year's frontloaded schedule of primaries and caucuses. He intends to clean up on Feb. 5, when voters in 22 states cast their ballots.
A number of states casting primary ballots Feb. 5 are big, including New York, New Jersey and California, where Giuliani campaigned earlier this week.
On Tuesday, Giuliani was at The Counter, an upscale burger joint in Santa Monica. You could say it was standing-room only, but people were packed in so tight, there wasn't even any room to stand.
Jeff Wright was lucky enough to show up early and snag a seat. "I just stopped to get a burger with a friend; the next thing you know, there's a press conference."
Giuliani stood with his back to the crowd, facing the reporters and television camera operators who were crammed into a back corner.
"We'll say a few words and answer a few questions as long as you're all here," Giuliani said.
This is a standard ritual for Giuliani's campaign stops. He greets local supporters, poses for pictures, signs autographs, but only talks policy — briefly — with reporters.
Regardless, a poll this week shows Giuliani leading by nine points in California.
So Giuliani doesn't seem to be one of the candidates — Republican or Democrat — who must do well when the first ballots are cast in January.
"Ultimately the nominee is going to be the one who has the most delegates at the end of the day. So we've looked at all the states — how many delegates they have, how they apportion their delegates, and how each state plays into that," campaign manager Michael DuHaime said after this week's Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa.
"Well, it's a calculated risk by Giuliani," said Republican pollster Glen Bolger, "because it's awfully hard to claim momentum if you don't actually have any."
No Republican may have undeniable momentum coming out of the early contests, said Jack Pitney, a Republican political analyst and professor at Claremont McKenna College.
"You can easily see a scenario where Huckabee wins in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, Fred Thompson chugs some Red Bull and is able to come back in South Carolina. Then we get to Feb. 5 and there's no clear leader. In that case, Giuliani can grab all the marbles," Pitney said.
Political analysts aren't surprised to see a Giuliani strategy that goes after some of the "bigger" states simply because the former mayor of New York City, Yankees fan and opera lover isn't a good fit with the early voting states.
"It's just very incongruous to picture Rudy Giuliani in a cornfield. The mind boggles at that image," Pitney said.
If Giuliani is left behind in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, then he could be resurrected soon after by a strong showing in the Jan. 29 primary in Florida, Bolger said.
"I mean, it's considered a cousin of New York, and he's from New York, so there's a lot of ties between the two states," Bolger said.
This weekend, when other candidates are in frigid Iowa or New Hampshire, Giuliani will be campaigning in the Sunshine State.