Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he hauled in $17 million in 49 days in the race, an impressive but not shocking result for the former head of the Republican Governors Association. But Perry’s base of support has essentially fled to Herman Cain, who lacks the organization and money right now that may be needed to sustain the burst of enthusiasm.
In some ways these two are polar opposites of each other. Perry is, despite his Tea Party affection, a career politician. Cain has never held elective office. Perry has bombed in debates. Cain has sparkled. Perry has no specific policy proposals. Cain has his 9-9-9 plan and a yen for the Chilean retirement system. Perry is on the ground constantly in early primary states. Cain hasn’t been to Iowa in a month. Perry has a moderate stance on immigration, reflecting his Texas experience and his desire to bring Hispanic voters into the GOP. Cain is so hard-line on immigration that he says he wouldn’t support Perry because of his immigration position.
And yet these two candidates — along with Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich — are scrambling for essentially the same pool of voters. All must capture enough of the social conservatives and Tea Partyers in Iowa to deny Mitt Romney a win (in a divided filed he surely could pull it off), and become the clear alternative to Romney. So long as these
four six candidates are dividing up the same pool of voters (about 55 percent of the pie), Romney keeps cruising along.
While Perry may still see himself as the top competitor to Romney, in fact he needs to snatch his lost voters back from Cain. That’s a tricky proposition. Cain is to the right of Perry on most issues. Cain embodies the outsider mentality that drives the Tea Party. And let’s face it, Perry risks looking mean and desperate by going after the personally likeable Cain.
Perry could distinguish himself by presenting his own conservative agenda, and critiquing Cain’s schemes as unrealistic or badly reasoned. Right now, however, Perry, although the nation’s longest-serving governor, lacks a stature advantage over Cain. Perry in essence has performed so badly that a pizza CEO looks every bit as credible as he does.
Cain, of course, has a major problem. He and his campaign really have no clue as to how to run a presidential race. On Chuck Todd’s “The Daily Rundown,” Cain’s campaign manager Mark Block blithely recited a list of assumptions that would qualify as the top mistakes rookie candidates make. They don’t need to concentrate on just a few states. Later contests are as important as the first ones. He’s running a national campaign so he doesn’t need to go to Iowa. Because Tea Partyers like him that counts as “organization” for the campaign. How many races have cratered following those fallacies?
So 90 days or so from the Iowa caucuses Perry is battling to regain his footing and his support from Cain. Romney is about to give a foreign policy speech and is no longer trailing Perry in polls. Romney appears to be the beneficiary of the supporters and money that would have gone to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. So who’s in the driver’s seat now? Romney, certainly. Can either Cain or Perry figure out how to get past him? We’ll find out in the next few months, but one of them will have to stretch beyond their personal and organizational limitations to do it.