September 25, 2011

Perry Opens Door: Who's Going To Going Through?

Could be anyone.
Texas Governor Rick Perry did not perform well in the Florida debate and it showed.  That's not to say he performed poorly but he was certainly not polished and not as well prepared as he should have been.  That no doubt will have an impact on his status as front runner.  A somewhat weak debate alone isn't enough to topple him but it's indicative of a problematic situation and trend for Perry.  Someone is going to take advantage of it.

Perry's lead in the race only a few weeks ago seemed insurmountable.  Today the lead is slipping and there's a number of people prepared to pounce.  After the debate Herman Cain won the Florida straw poll.  I'm not sure that outcome was on many people's radar but the poll has had a brief but powerfully predictive past - it's perfect (3 for 3 in eventual GOP nominees).  Headed into the debate there were rumors circulating that Chris Christie, another heavyweight prospective candidate was reconsidering his notion of definitely not getting into the race.  Meanwhile Mitt Romney has edged closer to his former status as polling leader.  Then there's the ticking clock for Sarah Palin - were she to enter the polling dynamic would certainly change, perhaps quite dramatically.

For Perry there has to be a polishing of his debating skills and fast, despite his protestations to the contrary that Republicans shouldn't choose the best debater.  There's an overarching goal among conservatives for 2012 that revolves around replacing Obama with a Republican president, and a secondary objective of taking control of the Senate back from the Democrats and Harry Reid.  With that dynamic as a starting point things get a little less straightforward moving towards secondary considerations.

William F. Buckley famously stated the rule: Elect the most conservative candidate who can win.  When Rick Perry entered the race he seemed to many to be tailor made to be very conservative and very electable.  He's not necessarily proven himself to be not-so-conservative and not-so-electable, but has left the door open to a growing number of questions on both fronts.  That means he's also left questions open about his strategic decisioning and therefore ability to govern.  None of that is cast in stone but he has opened the door for other candidates (or potential candidates) to step up and change the dynamic of this race from a two man race to something else.  

What that might be is unclear but I'm willing to make some predictions based on logical possibilities.

  1. The polling lead between Perry and Romney will shrink but other candidates will pick up some ground too.  There may be a candidate who surges, and at this point the logical guess would be Herman Cain.
  2. One other candidate will enter the race - either Palin or Christie.  If one enters the other most likely will not.  Palin's self-imposed window is closing, but Christie might outsmart her and wait beyond her deadline before entering, forcing her to either extend her deadline and lose credibility or announce early and factor that into his own decisioning.  If Christie enters first, I don't think Palin will get in the race.  If Palin enters first, I think there's a decent change Christie might still enter.
  3. Mitt Romney will try to focus every debate focuses on immigration instead of Romneycare - that will ensure that he remains relatively unscathed while Perry continues to slide.  That doesn't mean he will be successful but the lying low approach served him well until Perry got into the race and it could continue to serve him well now.
  4. Perry has to do something to change the dynamic of the race in his favor.  He was expected to go on the offensive in the last debate and he tried to, to very limited success.  He'll have to do something different now and it will be interesting to see if he changes his tactics from focusing on Romney to focusing on Cain, or to try to take on both.  Beyond a change in tactics though he has to shift the focus of the debate off of his own perceived weaknesses to the other candidates.  How he accomplishes or attempts that I'm not certain.
Prognostication aside, the race is very likely to change as a result of the straw poll and last debate.  How it changes is not certain but I suspect the changes will be numerous.

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