Republican Race for President Gets Serious: Rick Perry, Bachmann and More

The lineup of Republican candidates is finally solidifying. Who will be the serious contenders?

Huntsman is in. Newt’s been abandoned (again.) Perry is seriously pondering. And Palin put her bus tour on hold for jury duty. While some of the already declared GOP presidential candidates have been met with ennui by voters (who are still more focused on pocketbook pain), the political punditry has spent the week picking winners and losers.

Judging by the column inches of adoration – and attacks – the momentum this week went to Gov. Rick Perry. Though he’s not yet officially in the race, the Texas governor’s address to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans sure sounded like a campaign kick-off. The red-meat rhetoric had the conservative crowd on their feet.

On who he is: "I stand before you today a disciplined, conservative Texan, a committed Republican and a proud American, united with you in the desire to restore our nation and revive the American dream."

His advice to Republicans: "Our party cannot listen to our loudest opponents on the left. They are never going to like us, so it's time we stopped trying to curry favor with them."

His assessment of President Obama’s performance and the role of the federal government: The “mix of arrogance and audacity that guides the Obama administration is an affront to every freedom-loving American and a threat to every private-sector job in this country...Americans voted for hope and got nothing but greater economic misery."

Perry’s cure for the economy: “If we want to stimulate the economy, we don't need more government spending. We need to unleash the private sector in America.”

And his vision for the future: “I see a stronger America, built on the solid foundation of spiritual strength, of individual liberty, of self-determination. We must recapture that vision and begin the hard work of lighting the way for millions of Americans who are adrift in this sea of economic misery. Let's lead 'em to the safe harbor of American renewal and the shores of American exceptionalism. Let's anchor them. Anchor them in the future of good jobs and a country founded on great ideas. Restore the notion of a government of the people, for the people, by the people. If we don't do it, who will? If not now, when? There is no greater goal, no more crucial time than right now to take and make our stand to restore our economy, our families, our country!”

In a later, different address at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in San Antonio (an event skipped by President Obama), Perry was greeted by less-than-enthusiastic applause. Though the media jumped on this as a fatal flaw, Perry received 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2010 governor’s race, up from 31 percent in 2006. Not as high as it could be, but not insurmountable. And the 33-member Hispanic Republican Conference in the Texas House was among the first groups calling for Perry to run for president back in May.

Rounding up the rest of the field this week, as the first Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters is due out at 10 p.m. Saturday night:

• Mitt Romney still leads the Real Clear Politics national average poll, but stepped in it a bit this week by refusing to sign a “Pro-Life Leadership Presidential Pledge,” then having to issue a statement clarifying his position. Supporters will cheer because he's not turning himself into a pretzel for the right like he did in 2008. Detractors may see it as another inconsistency from the former governor of Massachusetts.

• Michele Bachmann, who leads Romney in a Zogby poll, is still getting buzz as she prepares to officially announce the start of her campaign Monday in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa (the day before Sarah Palin is to appear in Iowa at the premiere of The Undefeated). The Minnesota congresswoman is second only to Cain in positive intensity according to Gallup, and first in the viciousness of attacks against her.

• Jon Huntsman announced this week at the Statue of Liberty and got some knocks from a process-oriented press which focused more on style than substance. Huntsman appealed to greater civility in our politics – a message that will find strong resonance among many Americans and members of the No Labels community. And the former governor of Utah opened his campaign headquarters in Florida – a smart move as this will be THE critical state where the nomination will likely be won.

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• Tim Pawlenty is just not gaining the traction he needs after his less-than-aggressive performance in the New Hampshire debates, but the former governor of Minnesota is scheduled to give a major foreign policy address Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations.

• The Cain train is chugging along. Though Herman Cain lags in name recognition, he tops all other candidates in positive intensity, is in second place according to Public Policy Polling, and the crowds love him. But it’s a long climb.

• Newt Gingrich is just along for the ride now. And he doesn't even have a driver. Not only has the former speaker lost his campaign staff, his fundraisers have now fled.

• I don’t know what Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is smoking – but a bill to legalize marijuana is not exactly mainstream Republican.

• Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, remains focused on the early voting states, hoping to build momentum after positive showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

• Ignored by the mainstream media, Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, had to make his case in the pages of Rolling Stone.

• And the former governor of Louisiana Buddy Roemer finally got his chance to speak in New Orleans.

But the candidate with the worst week? President Obama. The economic numbers just keep getting worse.