“They wouldn’t say it publicly, and I won’t name names, but as a general consensus, most of us in the cloakroom and around our caucus meetings believe it’s down to a two-man race,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), who has endorsed Perry. “More and more Republicans are looking at electability.”
The nominee will define the Republican Party for the 2012 campaign cycle, making the choice consequential for the GOP’s hopes of taking back the Senate and maintaining control of the House. That has top Republicans nationwide especially tuned in to potentially damaging rhetoric, such as Perry’s comments about Social Security, which he labeled a failure and a “Ponzi scheme.”
On Capitol Hill, the chiefs of staff to Florida’s GOP members echoed those concerns in a private meeting Monday, according to a Republican source with knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The person said Perry’s Social Security comments effectively “chilled” an expected wave of endorsements from conservative members of Congress.
Bringing in endorsements
Although Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a rising star in the party, endorsed Perry on Monday, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who was elected last year, endorsed him on Tuesday, others said many Republicans will want to see how Perry handles himself over the next few weeks.
“It’s the wait-and-see-how-he-does wave,” said Tom Perdue, a Republican strategist in Georgia. “If he can make it through 60 days without the media just tearing him up, then I think he’s going to get another wave of support.”
Many Republican leaders said they will choose the candidate who is most electable — the one who can best balance the conservative ire that has fueled the tea party movement and the pragmatism that is required to navigate what party leaders are certain will be a treacherous general election.
Worries about Perry’s electability in part pushed former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty to endorse Romney this week. Perry and other candidates had courted Pawlenty after he dropped out of the race following August’s Iowa Straw Poll. But Pawlenty decided to back Romney after he and his wife, Mary, spent a quiet weekend with Romney and his wife, Ann, at their vacation home on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee.
In phone calls and get-togethers, Perry, Romney and their surrogates are pushing influential Republicans to abandon what has been their wait-and-see approach. During a dove hunt last weekend in Altus, Okla., for instance, Inhofe said he asked Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) to get behind his home-state governor. Cornyn responded that he wouldn’t choose sides because he chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Inhofe said.