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Does Perry have a shot?

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

June 28, 2011 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the hot new prospect for the Republican presidential nomination. A youthful 61, with some impressive talking points guaranteed to appeal to both social and economic conservatives, Perry could be the heavyweight that would spruce up what many folks, both in the GOP and the media, consider a weak Republican presidential field.


For starters, if the economy – unemployment in particular – remains the over-riding issue, Texas has been the site of 37 percent by one account, 48 percent by another, of the new jobs created in the US in the last two years. He favors the low-taxes, less regulations approach that appeals to most Republicans. He’s equally acceptable to the GOP base on social issues, from abortion to guns, gays and God. Most recently he named as a top priority legislation to bar “sanctuary cities” that provide safe havens for illegal immigrants, a hot-button issue in Texas and elsewhere.


If Perry runs, he will likely announce at the national prayer meeting he’s hosting on August 6, a juxtaposition that will further enhance his appeal to fundamentalist Christians. Shortly after, he will travel to South Carolina, where he will have to compete with Michelle Bachmann for that same set of conservative Christian voters.


Texas insiders, according to the University of Texas’s Texas Tribune surveys, have been split 50-50 on whether Perry will run, “but in the last week or two,” says Richard Murray, University of Houston political scientist, “the odds have moved more toward his serious consideration” of the race.


Is it too late for Perry to run? “With the new media and rapid spread of news and images, name ID can be achieved within 48 hours,” says Richard Quinn, an experienced South Carolina political consultant who is working for Jon Huntsman. Perry “is a good-looking guy” with a Texas George Bush-type” manner. Morton Blackwell, Virginia’s Republican National Committeeman since 1988, says, “Nobody has a commanding lead. It’s impossible to ignorer the successful governor of the successful state of Texas.” Blackwell is committed to no candidate so far.


Another recent Texas Tribune survey showed how unfocused the GOP contest is at this point. From a panel of 310 likely voters, the survey found 147 who plan to vote in next year’s Texas GOP presidential primary. From that small sample, 22 percent had no preference; Romney had 16 percent; Sarah Palin 14 percent; Ron Paul 10 percent, Perry – still unannounced when the poll was taken in late May – 9 percent; Herman Cain 8 percent; and Tim Pawlenty 7 percent.


On the other hand, Marty Connors, former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party and now on Romney’s financial team, who campaigned for Lamar Alexander in two presidential campaigns, says that “running for president requires an immense amount of infrastructure.” Citing the enmity between Perry and many of the Bush partisans, he asks, “Where does [Perry] get his infrastructure?”


Indeed, the split in the Texas GOP over Perry could cause him problems. “A lot of Bush and Kay Bailey Hutchison folks don’t like the governor,” including both Republicans and independents, says Murray. “If he emerges as the Tea Party alternative to Romney, he would have a good shot at putting the finances together, but he would have to get a lot from out of state.”

Noting last year’s Perry-Hutchison primary, Black says there were “plenty of hard feelings all the way around…  I’d be surprised if he got much support from any of her people.”  Thus, unlike the two Bushes, Perry would not have the united support of his fellow Texas GOPers.


Perry’s electoral record in Texas illustrates some of his home-state problems. After succeeding to the office of governor in 2001 when George W. Bush left Austin to become president, Perry was elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006 and 2008. In 2002, Perry won an impressive contest (58 percent) with wealthy businessman (oil and gas) and banker Tony Sanchez (D).  But in 2006, with six years as CEO under his belt, Perry was reelected with an anemic 39 percent in a four-way race. He rebounded in 2010, in the primary, where he defeated his challenger, the once highly-touted US Sen. Hutchison (R), by 51 percent to 30 percent, with 19 percent for Tea Party leader Debra Medina, then winning again in November with 55 percent.


Perry’s lack of a broader constituency extends beyond Texas. Perry “would appeal to very conservative Republicans,” says Earl Black, Rice University political scientist and co-author with his brother Merle Black of numerous books on Southern and national politics; “but I don’t know whether he has appeal beyond that.” Black also raises the question of “whether coming after two Bushes would be too much Texas for the rest of the country.”


Moreover, since his reelection last November, Perry has not visited Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, so if he runs he’ll have to play catch-up in these key battlegrounds where others have been working for months. However, Blackwell points out that new GOP rules encourage proportional representation for delegations, rather than winner-take-all primaries and caucuses, which could keep the nomination unsettled until the national convention.


Nevertheless, Perry does stir up the faithful. At the recent Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, the audience greeted Perry with rousing cheers and chants of “Run, Rick, Run.” If the GOP contests boils down to the conservative base vs. the party’s right-of-center establishment, Perry could be the standard-bearer for the base. “You’ve got Romney and somebody else. Perry just might end up being that somebody else,” says Connors.


If Perry enters the race, “He has to go into Iowa and do well there,” says Murray. “New Hampshire is not a good state for him.” An Iowa victory would get him ready for South Carolina, “but he can’t launch in South Carolina.”


But Perry’s hard-right style and substance is not necessarily a winner with Republican insiders who sense a 2012 victory is within party’s grasp – with the right candidate. “Perry’s a hot dog,” says a political pro (R) who heard him speak at the conference, “throwing red meat, waving his arms, with a kind of mean look… The country is not ready for another Texas cowboy.” 


As if to confirm this view, Perry’s recent book is entitled “Fed Up!”


But being fed up might not be enough in a General Election campaign.


Thus, although conservative columnist George Will, writing in the Washington Post, called Perry “a potentially potent candidate” for the GOP nomination, he also worried that he might be “a wine that will not travel” to the suburbs of Philadelphia and similar independent-heavy bailiwicks essential to a GOP victory in November 2012.


Perry’s relationship with Latino voters is another General Election problem. He did appoint Eva Guzman as the first Latina Justice on the Texas Supreme Court and more recently Esperanza “Hope” Andrade as Texas Secretary of State. But given his views on illegal immigrants, his reception at a recent address to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials was cool. With the growing importance of Hispanic voters in the Southwest and in Florida, Perry’s lack of appeal to these voters could be a problem for him.


His negatives also include always unsubstantiated rumors about his personal life, including allegations of a gay liaison. The rumors got so much attention that Perry publicly denied the story and the gossip quickly stopped. Don’t be surprised, however, if the national media find a way to resurrect the story.


On a more political level, when publicly excoriating the federal government’s involvement in state and local affairs, Perry cited secession as one option. It was probably a rhetorical device, which often has a half-amusing resonance with some Southern audiences, but it doesn’t look good for a candidate for president of these United States.



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