Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can Rick Perry Steal Chris Christie's Thunder?

As we've observed many times before, Republicans are deeply dissatisfied with the state of the 2012 presidential primary field. There is a vacuum waiting to be filled: Voters want someone who can excite and unify both the Tea Party and establishment wings of the Party. Since no candidate already in the race fits the bill, Republicans have hopped from one potential candidate to the next. The past two months have witnessed speculation about a host of different individuals: Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, Jr., Paul Ryan, and the list goes on.

Elephant Watcher's analysis of the field--backed up later by polling data--indicates that Christie is the candidate most likely to fill the void successfully. Given how closely the current state of the race resembles Christie's winning scenario, it's no surprise that Christie is projected to win the nomination.

But that doesn't mean other candidates might not attempt to enter the race and fill the void. A few weeks ago, we suggested that Perry was more likely than others to give it a shot. But as with Huntsman's careful deliberations, it's one thing to see an opening--and quite another to risk the humiliation of an unsuccessful run.

Perry will likely do a lot of investigating to determine whether he has a feasible candidacy. He'll make a lot of phone calls and exhaustively pore over obscure polling data where he's actually listed as an option. Unlike Christie, who occasionally posts good numbers despite having repeatedly denied his intention to run, Perry will find no signs of support in polls. He has little visibility outside of Texas, and voters are disinclined to support another Texas governor.

And yet, the void remains to be filled. Perry's low poll numbers are the result of his low profile. He has obstacles, but other candidates have them, too. If Perry is willing to throw the dice, he may find that voters are willing to overlook his weaknesses and view him as a stronger version of Pawlenty. Provided the Tea Party candidates (Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann) are unable to increase their perceived electability, a lot of the more strategic-minded conservatives could cast their lot with Perry. But voters will only give him a second look if he actually gets into the race.

If Perry wants to be president and has the courage to take a gamble, he will ignore the polls and jump into the race. There are no guarantees. But he must act quickly, and enter the race during the summer. By the time Christie is prepared to make a move in September, people won't be looking to Perry to fill the gap anymore.