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Post Partisan
Posted at 05:35 PM ET, 08/24/2011

The scary thing about Rick Perry’s ‘frontrunner’ status

It’s official: Rick Perry is the “frontrunner” for the Republican presidential nomination, according to the Post’s Chris Cillizza, one of the arbiters of such distinctions. A new Gallup poll has the Texas governor with the support of 29 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, compared to only 17 percent for heretofore “frontrunner” Mitt Romney. A Public Policy Polling survey also came in on Wednesday with similar results.

These findings, of course, don’t mean all that much. Performance in early primary states, not in national polls, is far more important, and contested presidential primaries can be extremely hard to predict even with those data in hand. Remember 2004, when Howard Dean was the unstoppable frontrunner for the Democratic nomination? Or 2008, when Hillary Clinton was? For what it’s worth, Perry seems to be leading in Iowa , too, but Romney still has a strong lead in New Hampshire .

Still, these results are a little startling, if for only one reason:

Gallup conducted the poll from August 17 to 21. The 17th was just four days into Perry’s campaign, but by then the candidate had already managed to suggest that Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, was “treasonous,” imply that President Obama doesn’t love America, and speculate that climate science was an elaborate, cynical fraud . These weren’t exactly stories that got no attention.

I still think that Perry’s candidacy will flame out, a burst of know-nothing right-wing populism with a truly mean edge to it that ultimately can’t succeed with enough voters. Perry might still be attracting a measure of support merely because he’s new to the race, and because accounts of his absuridities somehow haven’t percolated down to every last GOP voter. Still, Gallup’s poll makes one wonder just what he’ll have to say to repel those who currently favor him.

By  |  05:35 PM ET, 08/24/2011

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