Texas Gov. Rick Perry is touching base in the key early primary states. This weekend he was in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa. So far it doesn’t appear that he is going to concede any of the early states. His campaign spokesman on Sunday told me, “Governor Perry will campaign vigorously in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.”
The most overlooked in that lineup may be New Hampshire. At first blush it seems like a long shot for the Texan to triumph in the town halls and kaffeeklatsches in the Granite State. Southerners have not exactly done well in the New Hampshire primary. Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Reports says, “Apart from George H.W. Bush in 1988 (beating Dole), I can’t think of [a GOP Southern winner]. I’m not even sure [Bush] 41 counts, given his Connecticut roots. I think regionalism still matters to some degree.”
That doesn’t mean he can’t win there. Not by a long shot. His chief politico guru, David Carney, lives in New Hampshire. And it’s significant that right after his announcement in South Carolina, Perry flew north, as the (Manchester) Union Leader reported:
Perry’s arrival in New Hampshire came just hours after he officially declared his candidacy in South Carolina.
With his wife, Anita, and his two children by his side, Perry spoke to supporters — and others who still wanted to know more about him — at a reception in the back yard of Deputy House Speaker Pam Tucker’s home.
The 61-year-old Republican candidate said he felt at home in a state with a “Live Free or Die” motto, but insisted, “You can’t live free if you’ve got a federal government that takes over one-sixth of our economy like they’re trying to do with health care. You can’t live free knowing that your children are going to inherit a mountain of debt. You can’t live free if you don’t have the dignity of having a job or the income to take care of your family.”
Much of his campaign speech centered on jobs.
However, he will need to invest time and money in New Hampshire where he is largely unknown. University of New Hampshire political guru Andrew Smith tells me, “ He’s not well known. In early July, 42% of likely GOP primary voters did not know him and another 9% knew him, but did not have either a favorable or unfavorable opinion. He needs to spend money on advertising to boost name recognition.”
An economic-focused campaign in New Hampshire (where Bachmann has yet to spend much time and Mitt Romney was beaten in 2008) makes a lot of sense for Perry. Smith cautions that fiscal issues are critical to voters but “New Hampshire is second least religious state, so appeals to religion are not very effective.” In short, a properly focused and financed push in New Hampshire could work for Perry, but he can’t rely on name recognition.
In fact, a victory there would be a severe blow to Romney, for whom New Hampshire is a must-win primary. A longtime GOP consultant in the state not affiliated with any campaign tells me, “Perry needs to keep focused on his economic record and not get bogged down into the cultural issues that appear to have served him well in Texas. He needs to come to New Hampshire often and be significantly more accessible than the last two Texans who competed in the New Hampshire primary — Phil Gramm and George W. Bush.” Nor is it too late to get started. The consultant says, “If he sticks to that kind of game plan and doesn’t go overly negative, he has as good a chance as anyone.”
That view matches that of Charles M. Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy in Concord, N.H. He told me, “I’d be cautious about making too much out of Southerners not winning. There is little or no bias against Southerners in a GOP primary. Lamar Alexander in 1996, for instance, did quite well, and his accent had no effect.” It might even be a plus: “In fact, some conservatives see a Southern accent as a likely indicator of conservatism.” Rather than regionalism, the task may be to connect with voters on economic issues that resonate beyond just the core conservative base. Arlinghaus said, “In 2008 [ GOP primary] exit polls, only 55 percent voters in the GOP primary self-identified as very or somewhat conservative. The comparable number in the GOP Iowa caucus was 89 percent. Although 55 percent is a nice chunk of the electorate when you only need 30 or so to win.” He, too, thinks it is wide open. He observed that “with 80 to 90 percent of the electorate still functionally undecided and no one but the most obsessed paying much attention, anybody has a chance.”
At some point Perry will need to take on a top-tier candidate and win. Going all in to beat Bachmann in Iowa or Romney in New Hampshire has its risks. But he can’t win the nomination without knocking out his chief opponents and demonstrating his appeal outside the South.