DURHAM, N.H. - At lunchtime yesterday, Rudy Giuliani met with about 200 employees at a corporate headquarters here.

The Republican presidential candidate opened with a seven-minute speech, stressing the need for America to be on the offense against terrorism and in favor of a growing economy. Then he took five questions from the floor at Goss International Corp., the printing-press-maker. After little more than a half-hour, his only public appearance of the day was over.

Voters in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary are accustomed to getting a little more from their suitors. So some came away disappointed.

"I like Rudy for what he did as mayor of New York, how he turned it around," said Mike Skowron, 43, an undecided Republican who is considering voting for Giuliani. "It seemed like a canned speech."

Another who is also up for grabs, Judy Puchta, 66, said she "wasn't blown away."

A lot of people have been saying similar things about the Giuliani campaign in recent weeks as it has been battered by unflattering stories about the candidate's business dealings, his associates, and his personal life.

Because of these factors, plus the rise of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Giuliani has lost his status as clear national front-runner, and has seen his approach to winning the GOP nomination called into question.

Since the beginning, Giuliani and company have played down the importance of the earliest-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, which vote Jan. 3 and Jan. 8, focusing instead on delegate-rich prizes such as Florida (Jan. 29), and New York, California and New Jersey (Feb. 5).

Just over a month ago, campaign manager Michael DuHaime described Giuliani's leads in some of those states as "momentum-proof." Now, one poll has Giuliani behind Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney even in Florida.

The candidate does have a new slogan, which he brought to New Hampshire yesterday: "Ready. Tested. Now."

"I believe that I've been tested," he said, obviously referring to his widely praised role in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "I believe I'm ready. And I believe that now is the time that I can really make a difference in helping this country."

But he offered his audience little to distinguish him from his Republican rivals. Rather, he talked about his accomplishments as mayor and his philosophical disagreements with the Democrats on how to make the nation safe and how to help it thrive.

His approach to New Hampshire has left local politicians and analysts confused.

In many ways, he is the ideal candidate for New Hampshire Republicans, being an economic conservative, a foreign-policy hawk, and a social moderate.

At times, he has made a major effort both in terms of candidate time and paid advertising. At other times, he has backed away.

"The candidates who are doing the best in New Hampshire, in both parties, are those doing it the traditional way," State Republican Chairman Fergus Cullen said. "The ones who've made the most visits, who've done the most town-hall-style meetings, they're at the top."

State polls show Romney - who has invested the most time and money - leading, with Giuliani as far back as when he began campaigning in New Hampshire. Giuliani is tied for second, more or less, with Arizona Sen. John McCain, and McCain appears to be the one gaining ground.

"Giuliani just hasn't taken off here," said Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire. "I find what they've done puzzling. It's been more of a tarmac and television campaign, as opposed to a campaign that tries to reach out to voters in a direct and personal way."

What, if anything, Giuliani can do to break through - or how hard he will try - remains to be seen. Conversations with voters here support poll findings that a lot of them are far from locked in to any candidate.

"I'll be spending some of my Christmas holiday here in New Hampshire, which I really look forward to," Giuliani said yesterday. "This is a very, very important primary. It always has been; it always will be."

Giuliani plans to return Friday and Saturday for more active campaigning. There are some voters who remain very much available to him, and some who do not.

"I'm probably leaning toward Giuliani," said Bob Theriault, 32. "I look at the job he did in New York, cleaning up the city financially, reducing the crime, the handling of 9/11. That's great experience."

"My concern with Giuliani - and maybe it's a silly thing - is this," said Dan Brothers, 68, who came to listen even though he is a McCain supporter. "If he can't hold his marriages together, I don't know if he can hold the country together."

Larry Eichel's previous stories, other coverage at http://go.philly.com/