Conservative Leaders See Perry Beating Romney

Many still think Obama will be hard to defeat.

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Conservative political leaders are quickly lining up behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign, convinced the he has the issues and confidence to beat fellow Republican Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 election.

Several conservative leaders who gathered at an off-the-record meeting this week, however said that Perry still needs to do more to tell his story and they urged him to take a page out of Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign and convince the public that he's not a threat, but a credible alternative to Obama. [Read: Debate Shows GOP 2012 Contest Is a Two Man Race.]

The Washington meeting, attended by Whispers, brought together several elements of the conservative movement, from anti-abortion leaders to pro-gun advocates and Tea Party representatives. Most describe themselves as "Reagan conservatives," as opposed to "George W. Bush conservatives." The difference in Washington Republican circles is important: Those on the Reagan side cheer a smaller government while those aligned with Bush aren't as eager to trim the government. [See a photo gallery of Ronald Reagan.]

They all agreed that the GOP debates have gotten better now that Romney is being challenged by Perry, with most saying that Romney has improved and is making his case much better and with more urgency. 

But they believe Perry has held his own against attacks and should be in peak form tonight at the Google/Fox News debate in Florida where Social Security will take center state. [See a slideshow of the GOP contenders.]

Despite being high on Perry, most conservatives at the meeting said that they are still not convinced that Obama can be defeated. They cited current polling that has the president leading or tied with the top tier GOP challengers. But one made the case that the election might parallel the 1980 election when voters were eager to dump President Carter, but were slow to feel comfortable with Reagan. In the end, Reagan sealed the deal and won in a landslide.

  • See photos of the GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail.
  • Vote now: Will Obama be a one-term president?
  • Read Robert Schlesinger: Can Perry, Bachmann, or Romney Save the Republican Party Brand?