Don't Write Perry Off Just Yet

The Texas governor could rebound by focusing on policy and grassroots organizing.


The past two weeks haven't been kind to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his dreams of becoming the Republican nominee for president. Weak performances in the debates and a surprising loss in the Florida straw poll has left Perry reeling. Despite an early run of strong polls, a recent Fox News poll, taken from September 25 to September 27, has Perry trailing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 19 percent to 23 percent. And Republican Party elites have been anonymously questioning his readiness for prime time in the media.

Despite his floundering, it may be premature to write Perry's political obituary just yet—if only because he's proven himself in the past to be a political survivor. Perry is the longest-serving Texas governor in history, winning re-election three times in races that were hardly cakewalks. Most recently, Perry defeated former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, even though she had strong support from Texas icons such as former president George H. W. Bush. Here are some ways that Perry could rebound in the 2012 race.

Study up on policy

Maybe Perry can improve his debate performance, maybe not. Debates are important, but not critical to success in a primary. But Perry isn't going to improve his chances of victory unless he gets specific on policy—and fast. So far, Perry has yet to articulate clear plans on the economy or entitlement reform, the two most important domestic issues in the race. On Social Security, Perry has mainly focused on what he isn't in favor of—changing benefits for near-retirees or turning it into a program run by the states. And while he blasted the program as an illegal Ponzi scheme in his book, "Fed Up," he now insists that was an historical assessment, not indicating he would scrap the program if he were president. Perry's lack of clarity on this issue has left him tongue-tied when faced with attacks from Romney

Perry's biggest weakness right now isn't any one of his positions. It's a growing sense among Republicans that he isn't ready for prime-time. Articulating clear policy proposals can address that.

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Play the underdog

Taking a hit this early in the campaign may be a blessing in disguise for Perry. The underdog status can be a gold mine in the Republican Party, allowing Perry to blast the media and D.C. elites for trying to push him to an early exit. It's a role that John McCain used in 2008, when his campaign was nearly finished before an unlikely resurrection carried him to the nomination. And so long as Romney is perceived as the front-runner, the focus will be on him and his weaknesses as a candidate. It's worth remembering that, at the start of this election cycle, many believed Romney to be a fatally flawed candidate. The state-wide healthcare overhaul during his time as governor, so similar to the healthcare plan passed by President Obama, is tough to explain. He still has a history of moderate social positions which he's had to walk his way back from. Romney has done wellsidestepping those issues , but an increased spotlight on Romney might remind Republicans why they turned to Perry in the first place. 

Focus on the grassroots

Perry's path to the nomination remains pretty straightforward. Win the Iowa caucuses, put up a respectable fight in New Hampshire, crush Romney in South Carolina, and carry enough momentum to win the big states. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who captured an early lead in the Iowa, has been floundering. Her loss has been Perry's gain. Romney has been doing well in Iowa, too—a recent poll from the American Research Group has him leading in the state—but his campaign has chosen not to campaign in Iowa, making victory for him unlikely. Winning the Iowa caucuses requires a combination of devotion from followers and top-notch campaign logistics. Let others worry about who is winning the media day—Perry should focus on convincing Iowans that they need to find their way to the local caucus meeting room and vote.

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