Cheryl Senter, Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is following his long-planned, tested and methodical strategy to secure the Republican presidential nomination, while his chief rival, Rick Perry, is challenging the experienced campaigner on the fly.
Meanwhile, several people close to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie say he's reconsidering his decision to stay out of the race. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the issue.
Neither Romney nor Perry is panicking nor retooling after an aggressive September battle in which each landed blows. But as they begin October, they will each reach deeper into the early contest state perceived to belong to the other man.
Romney has kept a low profile in Iowa, but his campaign is growing in the state now, hoping to generate momentum by finishing in the top three in the caucuses, the first of the 2012 nominating contests.
The former Massachusetts governor is dispatching his wife, Ann, there next week and plans his own visit later in the month. After scaling back sharply from his $10-million 2008 campaign in Iowa, Romney is now adding modestly to his small Iowa staff and building support among niche groups, such as the agricultural industry, local businesses and senior citizens.
Perry charged hard out of the gate to cheering crowds after he announced in late summer. But his momentum was slowed by stumbles in recent debate performances. Nevertheless, he's heading to New Hampshire, where active voters hold him with some skepticism, for a series of appearances in front of influential voters who will be able to question him in public.
The following weekend, Perry plans to introduce himself to conservative northwest Iowa, where the Texas governor's opposition to a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border has raised eyebrows.
Perry is organizing aggressively in Iowa and has already peeled support away from rivals Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum in the state where he is expected to do well. Although Romney has only visited the state twice this year, he has maintained some support, and the latest moves there up the ante.
"There are enough people in the Republican Party in Iowa who want to keep the focus on jobs and the economy," Romney's senior Iowa strategist David Kochel said. "And we have an opportunity to organize in Iowa. With a small but effective effort, we can do well."
Meanwhile Perry is showing his clear intentions to challenge Romney in New Hampshire, where the former Massachusetts governor enjoys tremendous advantages and Perry is polling in single digits.
The Texan opened a series of three town hall-like forums over a 20 hour period Friday night in Derry, N.H. And while he didn't go after Romney by name, he offered at least one subtle jab.
"We need a nominee for the Republican Party who is a clear contrast with Barack Obama," Perry told roughly 150 voters gathered inside the Adams Opera House.
The open forums represent a shift away from the scripted events he favored during his first three trips to the first-in-the nation primary state. Local Republicans noticed the cautious beginning.
"Rick Perry is going to need to have more events beyond the RSVP-only house parties to illustrate he can handle the pressures of the first-in-the-nation primary," said Michael Dennehy, an uncommitted Republican strategist who managed 2008 GOP primary winner John McCain's campaign here.
Both are also sharpening their criticisms of each other, although Romney's attacks have been systematic while Perry appears to be testing his as he goes.
Romney had sat alone atop national polls until Perry bumped him after entering the race in August. Perry's support dipped somewhat in September, and he fell behind Romney in a Fox News poll published Wednesday, although Perry led in other recent national polls.
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