Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) was there last week. So was Sen. John F. Kerry (D- Mass.). Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) is expected next week. The Republican governor of Massachusetts? A little later this month.

The 2008 presidential election is still a long way off, but the potential contenders have begun making their way to New Hampshire. More than a dozen lawmakers believed to be considering bids have been to the Granite State, the expected site of the first presidential primary election, since last November. Among the Democrats, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was there in June. So was retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark. Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) has been up. So has John Edwards -- three times, in fact. Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.) is slated to make his first trip later this month.

Republicans have been just as busy. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) visited in December. Since then, colleagues Chuck Hagel (Neb.), George Allen (Va.) and Sam Brownback (Kan.) have stopped by. Same goes for Rep. Tom Tancredo (Colo.) and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) has been to the state three times.

"It's way early," said state Republican Party Chairman Warren Henderson, who attributed the unusually early forays to the wide-open nature of the '08 race. It will be the first in more than 50 years in which neither a sitting president nor a vice president is running.

The visiting lawmakers typically spend their time at fundraisers, picnics, potlucks and house parties -- wherever they happen to be invited. For some, such as Huckabee, who was making his first trip to New Hampshire, the visits give them an opportunity to introduce themselves to local activists. For others, it's a chance to meet old supporters.

"It's all about putting a toe in the water," Henderson said. "You might want to go see what kind of response you get. Do New Hampshire audiences react to you the same as audiences in your home state? For a lot of these folks, they may not really know how they're going to be perceived."

Preemptive Strikes

Where there are potential 2008 candidates, there are ads with '08 overtones.

Several advocacy groups have found a way to push agendas by capitalizing on the possible presidential candidates' ambitions.

One of the first was StemPAC, when it announced it would begin running television ads in New Hampshire criticizing Frist for not supporting legislation that would expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Weeks later, a Florida-based evangelical group called the Center for Reclaiming America announced it would run radio and television spots in Iowa also attacking Frist -- who, in the interim, had reversed himself on the research -- for supporting the controversial legislation. Now comes word that the anti-tax Club for Growth is airing ads in New Hampshire criticizing McCain for opposing a bill that would end the estate tax.

"I think he intends to run for president," Club for Growth chief Pat Toomey said, adding: "I think Senator McCain cares about the opinions of New Hampshire voters."