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Through the ups and downs of the Republican presidential campaign, Mitt Romney has remained, in effect, the frontrunner. He has done so even without holding as many rallies, town hall meetings or meet-and-greet as some of the other candidates. He's also done fewer media appearances. NPR's Ari Shapiro now looks at the strategy behind this low-key approach.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Let's rewind to 2008. In that election cycle, according to Washington Post's database, Mitt Romney did 177 events in Iowa, the state that begins the presidential nominating process. This year, according to The Des Moines Register, Romney has done 13 events in the state, far fewer than his rivals. Of course, Iowa is not Romney's focus this time around. His campaign is putting far more energy into New Hampshire, where Romney has a home. So how much have voters seen of the former Massachusetts' governor?
ANDREW SMITH: Romney this year has been doing his best to fly under the radar.
SHAPIRO: Political scientist Andy Smith directs the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
SMITH: He's been leading in polls for two-plus years. He's been the most popular candidate. He's had the favorability ratings. And I think what he's doing is essentially playing a game of running out the clock here.
SHAPIRO: That means no whistle-stop tours through small towns, a minimum of question-and-answer sessions with voters or reporters, and few high-profile interviews, as Chris Wallace recently noted on "Fox News Sunday."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")
CHRIS WALLACE: We have now interviewed all the major Republican candidates in our 2012 one-on-one series except Mitt Romney. He has not appeared on this program or any Sunday talk show since March of 2010.
SHAPIRO: That adds up to 20 months of saying no to free airtime. But the Romney campaign says describing their strategy as low-key is ridiculous. A campaign official said the former Massachusetts governor has done countless editorial board meetings with newspapers and more than 22 town hall sessions in various states. And it's true that Romney is not entirely absent from the spotlight. This afternoon, he held and even in Manchester, New Hampshire, though, he did not take questions. Still, Romney's tally of 20-plus town hall meetings pales in comparison to a candidate like Rick Santorum, who has 15 public events scheduled between today and Monday, including eight town halls. Of course, Santorum is still pulling in single digits, while Romney leads the pack. Political strategists on both sides of the aisle say the low profile is working for Romney, so there's no reason for him to change it.
ED GOEAS: The one thing you hear amongst Republican circles is you don't hear anyone saying he's running a bad campaign.
SHAPIRO: Ed Goeas is a Republican strategist who runs The Tarrance Group. He notes that voters are seeing much more of all the candidates this year than they did in 2008 because of the massive number of televised debates. Romney has been in 10 already, with five more coming before the year is out.
GOEAS: So 15 debates in a squeeze, in a pretty compact time period is eating up, I think, a lot of the candidates' time by all accounts.
SHAPIRO: Last summer, when Romney was out of sight for a while, Politico coined the term Mittness Protection Program. The Democratic National Committee revived the phrase this week, noting that out of Romney's seven New Hampshire appearances so far this month, he's only taken questions once.
Democratic strategist Geoff Garin says when the rest of the Republican candidates are constantly shooting themselves in the foot, all Romney really needs to do is stand back and avoid the shrapnel.
GEOFF GARIN: If you look around at the other Republican candidates, they are making big mistakes that are costing them a chance at the nomination, and Romney himself, when he's been out there, has had a number of flubs and embarrassing moments.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCASTS)
MITT ROMNEY: But corporations are people, my friend. Maybe, I should also tell my story. I'm also unemployed.
GARIN: Why risk those things, if you're very likely to be the last man standing in a very weak field of Republican candidates?
SHAPIRO: And with the time he saves on the campaign trail, Romney can spend his days raising money and gathering endorsements instead, both of which may be more useful down the road. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.