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Strategies make and break Republican runners

  • Story Highlights
  • Republicans had to decide how close to align themselves with President Bush
  • Strategies played a key role in success and failure
  • McCain takes control despite some unpopular positions
  • By Super Tuesday, McCain, Romney and Huckabee still in the race
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By CNN's Simon Rushton
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(CNN) -- Some big names entered the Republican race hoping to extend the party's time in the White House, but it was the durability of Sen. John McCain of Arizona that made him the presumptive Republican nominee.

McCain was beaten to the nomination in 2000 by George W. Bush.

As Republican hopefuls stepped up to the plate in 2007, President George W. Bush and his policies loomed large. Republican candidates had to decide how closely to align themselves with a Bush presidency defined by the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson, more recently a star of TV's "Law & Order," entered the race late amid great expectations. He pulled out on January 22, 2008, after less than five months, amid a lackluster campaign performance and poor showings in the early primaries.

Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York on September 11, 2001, hardly campaigned in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states, pinning his hopes on a later vote in the much bigger state of Florida.

That left McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as the chief contenders fighting the early states in January 2008.

Also in the race were Duncan Hunter, a U.S. congressman from California who dropped out in January, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who whipped up enthusiastic support, including an Internet following, but was unable to turn that into sufficient votes.

Huckabee used a religious voter base to propel him to a surprising win in Iowa.

McCain's win less than a week later in New Hampshire, where George W. Bush beat him in 2000, promoted him to front-runner status.

Both results were bad news for Romney who some joked looks like President Bartlett of TV's "The West Wing." But Romney persevered, using his own money to help finance his campaign.

As the early states came and went, the candidates tried to align themselves with the late former two-term Republican President Ronald Reagan. Watch sparks fly between Romney and McCain Video

In front of Reagan's Air Force One in the Reagan Presidential Library for a debate, each put themselves forward as the Reagan for 2008.

In an early debate in May 2007, three candidates -- Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Huckabee -- indicated they did not believe in evolution.

Huckabee added a month later during a New Hampshire debate: "If anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate, they are certainly welcome to do it." Watch Huckabee on evolution Video

Brownback and Tancredo dropped out before a vote was cast.

Giuliani managed to turn pretty much any issue into a matter of national security, but his strategy of ignoring the early states to concentrate on Florida flopped.

Florida Republicans were penalized for moving their primary ahead on the calendar to January 29 by being given only 57 delegates -- half the number they would normally have had -- but a win would still have been enough to bring Giuliani back into contention.

He came in third behind McCain and Romney, leaving him with no delegates because under Republican Party rules all delegates go to the winner.

Just a few days later, Giuliani left the race and endorsed McCain.

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McCain came close to running out of campaign cash but managed to keep going even when he took what was perceived as unpopular positions. Most notably, he supported sending more troops to Iraq when public opinion was going the other way.

With Super Tuesday on the horizon, McCain was building momentum, Huckabee was looking to the Bible belt states and Romney was focusing on the economy and two stars were out.

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