Gov. Rick Perry is packin’ heat, figuratively and maybe literally, with a double-digit lead in polling over presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney and Iowa straw-poll winner Rep. Michele Bachmann, just a few days after officially entering the 2012 GOP race for president.
The Rasmussen poll of likely Republican and unaffiliated voters, the first national poll after the Ames debate, the Iowa straw poll, and Perry’s announcement, shows the Texas governor with 29 percent support versus 18 percent for Romney and 13 for Bachmann. Sixteen percent are undecided. Perry scores highest among both men and women, wins all but one age demographic, and leads among both Tea Party and non–Tea Party voters. In this group 69 percent view him favorably and 38 percent very favorably. And Perry scores higher in positive intensity than Bachmann and Romney, according to Gallup.
What had been a bit of a sleepy GOP 2012 lineup just got a whole lot more interesting. As chief executive of Texas, the state leading the nation in private-sector job growth, Perry is already laying some pretty good smack on Romney. When the former Massachusetts governor questioned Perry’s “real economy” experience, Perry responded: “I was in the private sector for 13 years after I left the Air Force. You know, I wasn’t on Wall Street, I wasn’t working at Bain Capital, but the principles of the free market—they work whether you’re in a farm field in Iowa or whether you’re on Wall Street.” And when asked again to respond to the jab from Romney, Perry fired back, “I’m thinking Texas is the real economy.”
But Perry has been gracious to Bachmann, calling her “a ball of fire for one thing” (that’s a compliment), before adding, “though we didn’t get the chance to shake hands,” a gentle reminder of her stage-managed appearance at the Lincoln Day dinner in Waterloo, Iowa, where Perry ran retail circles around the hometown girl.
However, there is no question who his real opponent is in the battle of ideas: President Obama. And he is taking the fight to him on jobs and the economy, saying: “I hope I’m President Obama’s worst nightmare. He’s the real problem here. It’s his policies. It’s his EPA administrator. It’s his people that he’s put in place that are strangling America with their regulations, with their debt. And Americans have had enough.” Perry is calling for a moratorium on all new regulations “to get America working again.”
While brash, Perry is a skilled retail politician adept at striking populist chords among the masses. Charming and disarming on his first few days out on the trail, he is proving he can work a room of voters like no others currently in the GOP race. And though he does not back down when challenged by the media, Perry has admitted he was wrong on two decisions in Texas, seen as venal sins by some conservatives: his support for a Trans-Texas Corridor that involved private contractors, eminent domain, and tolls, and an opt-out rather than opt-in mandate for an HPV vaccine for young girls. “Here’s what I learned,” Perry explained when challenged on the campaign trail in Iowa. “When you get too far out in front of the parade they will let you know ... I don’t always get it right, but I darn sure listen.” Unusual for politician to admit a mistake, and then to learn from it.
While Perry is stealing headlines this week, Bachmann still has to prove to the media that she is not crazy, and Rep. Ron Paul still has to prove his second-place finish in Iowa makes him a serious contender.
Meanwhile, Obama continues to play the blame game—this time, headwinds and Congress, not George W. Bush—while yearning for the days of Walter Cronkite. He’s not too far off. Cronkite’s last broadcast was March 6, 1981. And it does feel like 1980 all over again. Malaise may mar the sitting president’s reelection plans, and Perry may play Ronald Reagan to Romney’s George H.W. Bush to Obama’s Jimmy Carter.
There is a fire raging within the base of the GOP, and Rick Perry knows how to fan the flames, as he did with his “treasonous” remarks Monday about the Fed. The key will be to see whether he has the discipline and a modicum of moderation to keep the blaze from getting out of control and burning down the GOP house on the long road to the general election.