Rick Perry has had a rough few weeks. After skyrocketing to the top of the 2012 presidential field two months ago, the Texas Governor’s campaign has imploded, plagued by bad debate performances and accusations that he is a racist and associates with bigoted pastors.Perry has now lost roughly half of his support in national polls, ceding the lead back to Mitt Romney and falling behind pizza magnate Herman Cain. Conventional wisdom holds that tonight’s presidential debate in New Hampshire is the make-or-break moment for his campaign — that if he doesn’t manage to eke out a strong performance, he can kiss his Oval Office dreams goodbye.
But Perry’s situation isn’t actually as dire as everyone makes it out to be. Here’s why:
- He has cash. Lots of it. Perry’s campaign reportedly raised $17.1 million in the third-quarter, despite being in the race for only half of it. More importantly, Perry has spent almost none of that money — the campaign has $15 million in cash-on-hand. That is enough money to get Perry a second chance, even if his fundraising starts to take a hit from his recent drop in the polls. The presidential campaign is a marathon, not a sprint, and Perry still has a ways to go before his “do-or-die” moment.
- He knows how to connect with the base. Bad debate performances have exposed Perry’s weaknesses (immigration, HPV vaccine mandate) and knocked his campaign off-message, but this doesn’t have to be permanent. Despite these blemishes, Perry has a staunchly conservative record, and strong support with key Republican constituencies, including the NRA and the Christian Right. Moreover, he ascribes to the limited government, 10th Amendment ideology popular with the Tea Party. Romney has a less than stellar record on issues like healthcare and abortion, and, as a Mormon, could have trouble winning over the support of conservative Evangelicals, who make up nearly 50% of Republican primary voters.
- He knows how to win. Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor, has never lost an election in nearly three decades of running for office. His 2012 team is stacked with veterans of past Perry campaigns, none of whom is used to losing. But it is the first time the Perry team — a close-knit inner circle of the governor’s friends and advisors — has run a national race, so there were bound to be some bumps along the way. The real test now is whether they can learn from their mistakes and turn the race back around. If they can, Perry’s campaign has an invaluable weapon — loyalty.
- Nobody loves Mitt Romney. After desperately searching for another candidate to jump in the race, the Republican Establishment is now slowly starting to accept Romney as their best shot to beat Obama in 2012. But he has yet to inspire any deep devotion, either among the party leadership or among voters. In fact, the longer Romney runs for president, the less people know who he is. Seriously. According to a recent Pew centre survey only 27% of Americans can name Mitt Romney, compared to 30% who could name him in October 2007. Most primary voters remain undecided — there is still room and time for Perry to redefine himself as the conservative standard-bearer.
All this indicates that tonight’s debate might not be the do-or-die moment that the media has made it out to be — Perry’s campaign has not run out of steam yet. But Perry’s performance tonight could tell us whether Perry’s campaign has the capacity to make it through a tough news cycle. If Perry can eke out a decent debate performance, that will show that he and his staff are willing to learn from their mistakes — a key sign that they can weather the ups and downs of a presidential campaign.
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