Texas Gov. Rick Perry has had a rough few weeks. After a meteoric ascent to the top of the Republican presidential field this summer, the Perry campaign has slowly imploded, plagued by dismal debate performances and accusations that he is a racist who associates with Mormon-hating evangelical bigots.After Perry failed to deliver a breakout performance in Tuesday night’s presidential forum, the political punditry basically wrote his campaign off as DOA and started preparing for Mitt Romney’s coronation. Perry has now ceded the lead back to Romney, fading into the background while his top-tier status is usurped by upstart Herman Cain.
But despite appearances, 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 raised $17.1 million in the third-quarter, despite being in the race for only seven weeks. More importantly, Perry has spent almost none of that money — the campaign has $15 million in cash-on-hand. Even if his fundraising starts to take a hit, Perry has enough money to buy a second chance — and effective advertising can more than make up for bad debate performances. A presidential campaign is a marathon, not a sprint — Perry still has a ways to go before his “do-or-die” moment.
- Tuesday’s debate performance wasn’t actually that bad. To be sure, Perry didn’t knock anyone’s socks off at the economic forum, but mediocre is a big step up from the Governor’s last three showings. The change is significant, indicating that Perry’s campaign team knows this is their candidate’s weak spot and is working to correct it. In fact, Perry’s activities leading What was more interesting was Perry’s behaviour leading up to the contest — sources close to the campaign say the governor has spent the last few weeks meeting with policy experts and working on his debating skills. The Texas Governor may never be the strongest debater in the 2012 field, but history shows that is not necessarily a dealbreaker with Republican voters.
- Herman Cain is not a real threat. Let me rephrase: At this point, there is no evidence that Herman Cain is a real threat, but with this crowd, you never know. Unlike Perry, Cain enjoyed a relatively easy rise to the top of the field, and you can bet Romney is going to do all he can to keep him there. But Cain has virtually no campaign organisation — last we heard, he was launching an impromptu bus tour from Memphis to Nashville today (Tennessee’s primary is in March) — and his policy proposals (i.e. the 9-9-9 tax plan and the Chilean retirement model) are unlikely to pass muster once voters take a harder look.
- Nobody loves Mitt Romney. While some members of the Washington Establishment have started to come around on Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor has by no means locked up the support of the party stalwarts. And average voters have definitely not gotten the memo that Romney is their presumptive nominee. As evidence, a recent Pew centre survey found only 27% of Americans can name Mitt Romney, compared to 30% who could name him in October 2007. That means that the longer Romney runs for president, the less people know who he is. Not promising.
- Perry can 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.
- Perry’s team 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.
All this indicates that Perry’s campaign has not run out of steam yet. If Perry’s team can ride out an exceptionally long bad news cycle and make a real comeback, it will show that he and his staff are ready to do what it takes to win — a key sign that they can weather the ups and downs of a presidential campaign.
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