A number of readers have noted that there was no Wednesday “Path to the nomination” post this week. I’m gratified that it was missed, but sometimes the breaking news of the day takes precedence.
At any rate, a day late, “Path to the nomination” is out of individuals who have one (a path to the nomination, that is) in the Republican camp at this point. I don’t believe Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Gary Johnson or Newt Gingrich have the ability to rise to the top tier of candidates, and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. (If this changes, I will be the first to step forward with a mea culpa.) It is still possible, but increasingly unlikely, that Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) will enter the race (again, if he does, we’ll certainly examine his campaign from every angle).
Now the question becomes how the most viable candidates perform and how they compete with one another for votes. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is nearly certain to enter the race this summer. Meanwhile, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) has established herself as a force to be reckoned with. So how do they match up against one another?
The Washington Post-ABC News poll gives us some data. I spoke to Peyton Craighill, The Post’s polling manager, about the voters attracted to these two potential competitors. He explains that “Bachmann and Perry have relatively similar bases of support among demographic groups. What distinguishes Bachmann from Perry (and the rest of the GOP field) is her appeal among strong Tea Party supporters. In this group, 23 percent support Bachmann vs. 11 percent for Perry.” Granted, Perry is not yet a candidate and still is a relatively unknown quantity for a lot of voters. But Bachmann’s hold on the Tea Party so far is impressive. Craighill observes, “This is the one group for which Bachmann is numerically ahead of all other GOP candidates, including Romney.”
It is also interesting to see Bachmann’s appeal among staunch conservatives. Craighill says, “Bachmann also does better than Perry among Republican and GOP-leaning independents who describe themselves as ‘very conservative.’ But this group overlaps very closely with the strong Tea Party supporters.”
This is a challenge facing Perry if he, as expected, jumps into the race: How does he distinguish himself from Bachmann? One way might be on foreign policy. Ben Smith reviewed the lineup at a recent meeting of defense hawks with Perry:
Perry’s aides have been tight-lipped about the gathering, which National Review reported included former Rumsfeld aides Doug Feith, Daniel Fata and William Luti, as well as the magazine’s Andrew McCarthy and others. But I’m told that Rumsfeld helped steer Perry’s staff to the low-key advisory group and his detainee adviser Cully Stimson was also invited but couldn’t attend.
Frankly, he has plenty of fodder these days with Republicans and Democrats alike itching to slash defense. (If Tim Pawlenty continues to fade, the group of hawkish voters who have admired his stance on national security issues could hop to Perry.)
Second, Perry can push the jobs issues, which is plainly a winner for him. As the unemployment figure rises, the contrast between Perry’s record in attracting new employers and the rest of the country becomes all the more impressive.
And finally, the candidates will have to withstand side-by-side scrutiny. How do they react to an attack in a debate? Is one better versed on issues than the other? And, let’s not forget, the all important “Whom would you rather have a beer with?” test.
The fight for the conservative base is fierce. And at this point it is up for grabs.