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But Mr. McCain built on the relationships he formed in the 2000 campaign in the kickoff primary state and refused to concede ground either politically or on the war in Iraq, which was the dominant issue for much of the race.

“He was tireless in how much time and effort he spent here. Granted, he had a one-state strategy so he could do so, but New Hampshire voters started to identify with the fact he was a fighter who wouldn’t quit, and if he wouldn’t quit on the New Hampshire primary, he wouldn’t quit on the voters or the American people,” Mr. Duprey said.

Mr. McCain was aided by Mike Huckabee’s surprise victory in Iowa, which dented Mr. Romney’s momentum. Mr. McCain powered through that opening on his way to the nomination.

This time, Mr. Romney remains the best-funded candidate, with Mr. Perry nipping at his heels. The rest of the field lags far behind, though analysts say changes to the GOP nomination rules that split convention delegates proportionally rather than a winner-take-all system in the early states could extend the fight. That makes a drawn-out battle similar to the Democrats’ 2008 process a possibility.

There are other models for campaigns to look to besides Mr. McCain, including Sen. John F. Kerry’s surprise victory in the 2004 Iowa caucuses over Mr. Dean. Mr. Kerry was the second-best-funded candidate at this point in the race, though, and his one-two punch in winning Iowa and then New Hampshire in quick succession boosted him to a relatively easy nomination victory.

Mr. Elleithee, the Democratic consultant, said that race also shows the pitfalls of depending on other candidates. At the time he was working for Wesley Clark, who seemed to have momentum in New Hampshire. The campaign’s plan was to skip Iowa, where Mr. Dean appeared to have the race in hand, and then make a stand in New Hampshire as the anti-Dean candidate.

“A big part of our rationale in the insider game was we were the one guy that could stop Howard Dean from getting the nomination. Then Iowa came, and both John Kerry and John Edwards proved us wrong,” he said.

Mr. Elleithee said there is still a chance for lesser-funded candidates to make a stand in early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, but by the time the contests get to Florida - scheduled this year for Jan. 31 - and then on to more national races, money becomes an overwhelming factor.