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Texas Governor Rick Perry has arrived at the water’s edge.It’s not like another 50 phone calls will tell him anything that he hasn’t heard already. What he’s heard, from virtually everyone he’s talked to, is that a “huge opening” exists for a presidential candidacy of his kind and that now is the time to exploit it.
It seems likely (although still not certain) that he will do just that.
The basic components are in place. The political support is there. Perry would enjoy the support of many (if not most) of his fellow GOP governors. You wouldn’t call it enthusiastic support. Republican governors around the country would have been happier had Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels or Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour entered the race. Truth be told, they think Perry is a political B-Teamer. But Barbour and Daniels didn’t run and the governors aren’t keen on Mitt Romney, so if B-Teamer Perry it must be, so be it. They’ll play the cards they’re dealt.
The money is there. Socially conservative Republicans and traditional economic Republicans are united by one belief: President Obama must be defeated in 2012. They view his presidency as a catastrophe. They will raise whatever amounts of money are required to get the job done. Anyone who has a realistic chance of defeating President Obama will therefore have access to enough money to run a fully competitive primary campaign. Perry is perceived as someone who can defeat President Obama (whether rightly or wrongly is another question).
The constituency is there. For the moment, the social conservative/Tea Party constituency is swooning over Michele Bachmann. And it may be that she can hold that constituency through the Iowa caucuses. But she doesn’t seem like a long distance runner. She’s too inexperienced. She doesn’t know the world. She’s never run a large governmental organisation. Political professionals and primary voters alike view her as someone who doesn’t have what it takes, yet, to win at the national level.
If that’s true, then a majority of the GOP’s primary voters are up for grabs. They will vote for Mitt Romney if they have to (because priority number one is getting rid of Obama), But if they have a credible alternative to Romney, they’ll take it. The job of Perry’s handlers is to make GOP primary voters believe that Perry is the credible alternative.
Perry will run on two things: his “electability” and the dynamism of the Texas economy under his leadership. The latter may have nothing to do with his leadership and everything to do with the state’s booming energy business, but there’s no denying that Texas has weathered the recession better than most. So the hinge of his candidacy is “electability.” Therein lies a challenge.
Perry is late to the race. Michele Bachmann has built a real lead in Iowa and caucus attenders there seem to genuinely like her. Mitt Romney has built, brick-by-brick, a fortress in New Hampshire and will likely win the primary there. If Perry enters the race and competes in Iowa and New Hampshire, he might very well lose both. Which would undercut, to say the least, his “electability” argument. Candidates who lose the first two contests are in no position to advertise their “electability.” “I’ll win eventually” is a losing message.
So what to do? Perry would be well-advised to skip Iowa and New Hampshire and begin his campaign in South Carolina as a kind of regional favourite son. If Bachmann wins Iowa but loses by a wide margin to Romney in New Hampshire, she will arrive in South Carolina as damaged goods. Romney will arrive as the front-runner who does not enjoy the heart-felt support of the GOP base. Perry can frame the contest as “Mitt or me.” That’s a potentially winning frame. If Perry beats Romney in South Carolina, he’s halfway home to the nomination.
We’ll see what he does.
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