I’ve been making the case for some time that Herman Cain isn’t up to the task of being president and that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a serious likability problem. The Post’s Dan Balz finds evidence that some voter agree. In observing an Ohio focus group, Dan writes:
Perry left this group cold. If he is the person many GOP strategists believed was destined to challenge Romney for the nomination, no one had given that memo to these Ohioans.
In the fifth-grade exercise, eight of the 12 wrote down “bully” as the kind of kid he reminded them of. When the discussion turned to other attributes, he was described as the kind of neighbor others would not want to mess with, or someone who would build a fence around his property, or someone who would be in everybody else’s business. . . .
The negative descriptions of Perry underscored the depth of the problems the Texan has created for himself after 10 weeks as a candidate. His decline has created the vacuum that Cain is filling. That may be one reason that Perry’s opening ad in Iowa, released Wednesday, is wholly positive and almost vanilla in character. More than any other candidate, he needs a new introduction to Republican voters.
Part of this may be a huge gender gap. Women see Perry as the know-it all husband, the obnoxious neighbor or the vain boss. His uber-aggressive pose in the last debate might not have resonated so poorly with men, but women would see “jerk” in the personal attack on Mitt Romney’s gardening staff. (Polling last month suggested he indeed suffers from a gender chasm.) What men may see as confidence, women see as domineering. What men see as frank, women see as boorish.
There is also proof that Cain isn’t making the grade. They like him just fine. But not a single voter said Cain was someone with whom they would be comfortable in the Oval Office.
It’s not that this group loved Romney either. He came across as the rich guy and a little too slick. But they didn’t hate him and they didn’t show a lack of faith in his ability to do the job.
Pundits observing the race have missed a key factor in elections: They are graded on a curve. You only have to be better than the rest. Romney’s weaknesses — ObamaCare and doubts about his convictions — have turned out to be less debilitating than his opponents’ weaknesses. That’s why, in addition to a string of impressive debate performances, Romney is ahead in early states’ polls.
This sure has turned out to be a lot like 1992. Then, Bill Clinton won the nomination in a weak field. The good news for his party, which the GOP would certainly like to emulate, is that he got elected. Twice.