BOSTON (AP) — Forget the national polls for Mitt Romney.
Slowly, methodically, the Republican presidential contender has seized the advantage in the early states that count, relying on a solid organization, $4 million in advertising and an aggressive approach.
It’s propelled him to the top of polls in the caucus and primary sites of Iowa and New Hampshire, and laid the foundation for what some analysts argue is greater success.
“Mitt Romney is now positioned as the front-runner for the nomination,” said Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. “There’s a long way to go, but to date he’s running the most logical, thought-out, structured campaign. He’s marching in the right cadence, he’s raising the money, he’s spending it wiser, and he seems to be on track.”
Mr. Romney continues to trail former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and even former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee — who has not formally declared his candidacy — in national polls of the Republican contenders.
But surveys show the former Massachusetts governor leading in the first states to vote, bolstering his strategy of using momentum from strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire to push him ahead in South Carolina and Florida a week later. In rapid-fire succession, at least 15 states from New York to California hold contests Feb. 5 that likely will produce the Republican nominee.
The path is far from easy for Mr. Romney, who has been dogged by criticism that he has switched positions on abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research and same-sex “marriage” — issues critical with party conservatives. He also is vying to become the first Mormon president, a potential problem with Southern evangelicals who consider the faith a cult.
“The aggressiveness, the early aggressiveness, was a huge boon to him,” said Chuck Laudner, executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa. “They sent a DVD out in the mail, glossy fliers. It cemented him as a front-runner here in Iowa in April and May. They didn’t just come here at the end of the process like the others.”
Mr. Romney has pummeled the early states with TV advertising, part of an unprecedented $4 million early buy fueled by a record $21 million he raised during the first three months of the year. That total far surpassed Mr. Giuliani’s $13.6 million and Mr. McCain’s $12.5 million, a pecking order the Romney camp hopes to repeat when the second quarter ends June 30.
He is operating on the notion that he can win the Republican nomination if he starts small and his momentum grows. That is why he has been so dismissive of national polling, where he lags, and buoyed by the state-by-state surveys, where he has led.
Earlier this month in an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Romney explained his strategy.
“I think the national polls are largely name awareness at this stage,” he said, “but as time goes on, name awareness is replaced by ‘does the message connect’ and ‘have you built a good grass-roots organization’ and ‘have you raised enough money to get out there?’ ”