DES MOINES -- 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.
Neither Romney nor Perry is panicking nor retooling after an aggressive September battle in which each landed blows. But as October begins, they will each reach deeper into the early-contest state perceived to belong to the other man.
Romney an Iowa presence
Romney has kept a low profile in Iowa, but his campaign is growing there and hopes to generate momentum by finishing in the top three in the caucuses, the first of the 2012 nominating contests.
The former Massachusetts governor will dispatch 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.
Meanwhile, Perry is showing his clear intentions to challenge Romney in New Hampshire, where Romney enjoys tremendous advantages and Perry is polling in single digits.
Perry charged hard out of the gate to cheering crowds after he announced in August. His momentum was slowed by stumbles in recent debates. He's heading to New Hampshire for a series of appearances in front of influential, and skeptical, 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 visited the state only twice this year, he has maintained some support, and the latest moves there up the ante.
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. 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.
During September's three GOP debates, Romney pressed Perry on the border-fence opposition and support for education benefits for illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria, neither of which sit well with a segment of primary voters. But Romney has tried as aggressively to undercut Perry's general election allure by attacking his call for ending Social Security, a program millions of older Americans rely upon.
Perry has shown little evidence of changing his early-state strategy, even in New Hampshire where Romney has an edge as a summertime resident and where he campaigned aggressively to a second-place finish in the 2008 leadoff primary.
Perry faces Northeast test
Perry will practice his campaigning skills this weekend with three town hall-style meetings, putting himself in front of often confrontational New Englanders, in a 20-hour period.
Perry has responded to Romney's criticism with a flurry of jabs aimed at likening Romney to President Barack Obama. Primarily, Perry has criticized Romney for signing a health care measure as governor of Massachusetts in 2006 that requires state residents to be insured, a common attack by Republicans on the federal bill Obama signed last year. But Romney has largely ignored Perry's attacks.
Perry has also poked at Romney's upper-class background and stoked suspicion about his changes on past positions on social issues, a criticism that dogged him in his '08 campaign.