"Their popularity suggests that Pete Wilson would do well," Howell said.
Schneider said Wilson's Northeast strategy could also prove effective because several of the states allow independent voters to participate in GOP primaries, providing another pool of possible supporters for candidates attractive to the political center.
"It could work," Schneider said.
But Wilson's strategy also faces daunting challenges.
The governor got a late start in the race and he has a major task in reaching voters in key states. His fund-raising is behind schedule. He faces a major distraction from the campaign to maintain his duties as governor, particularly these days, when the California Legislature is debating a state budget that is already overdue.
Perhaps most of all, Dole's campaign has a solid grip in many of the areas targeted by Wilson.
"As to 'Three News,' I've got some bad news for the Wilson campaign," said Nelson Warfield, spokesman for the Dole campaign. "Bob Dole is strongly in the lead in each of those areas."
New York poses a particularly difficult problem for Wilson. Even under the best of circumstances, the state's complicated election laws make ballot access difficult in its primary. In this campaign, those problems have been intensified because Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, a major Dole supporter, has been orchestrating an effort among state Republican officials to keep other GOP challengers, such as Wilson, off the ballot.
Frustrated Wilson officials say they still plan an expensive and exhausting effort to get on the New York ballot, a task that requires working one congressional district at a time. And they claim that there are key Republicans in the state who are silenced by the party machinery, but privately encouraging Wilson to compete.
"I actually think we can make a showing in New York, but it's going to require New Yorkers to decide they don't want a United States senator to dictate to them who their nominee should be," Fuller said.
Should Wilson's Northeast strategy work, his campaign is hoping the momentum of a strong showing there would carry into a number of following contests. But in the period between New York's primary and California's on March 26, there are several crucial primaries in which Wilson would have to overcome his lack of a natural base of support.
Most notably, five Southern states will cast ballots on March 12, Super Tuesday. A week later, five states from the Midwest combine for a major contest in the nation's Rust Belt.
Even in California, Wilson is suffering in polls that show him trailing Dole among Republicans and President Clinton among the entire electorate. This could severely hinder Wilson's effort, since his campaign's cornerstone is the presumption that he could carry California.
As a result, Fuller said the governor will do some campaigning over the next few months in his home state. "It certainly has our attention and it certainly means that we will never take California for granted," Fuller said.