Now that Texas Governor Rick Perry has taken the plunge and entered the Republican primary full swing, we thought we'd give our readers our take on the upsides and downsides to Perry's potential to become the Republican nominee for President.
With all the buzz that Perry was able to create as a non-candidate and the cannon-ball of a splash he has made in the race in the span of the last 48 hours since entering, Perry will no doubt be a contender, and a serious one at that.
But Tom Tancredo's recent Politico column aiming fire at Perry over his immigration stance makes clear Perry will not please all the primary electorate all the time.
Perry's widely viewed as a conservative — and he is. But like anyone who's governed a long time, there are aspects of his record that will be viewed as troubling for conservative primary voters. Immigration is at the top of the list.
As he dives into the race, opposition research from the other campaigns and from the press will quickly — and when we say quickly, we mean quickly — vet Perry, his strengths, his weaknesses, his highlights and his foibles for both primary and general audiences.
During a radio show that Perry called into today in Iowa, it appeared his opponents' campaigns had lined up their supporters on the call-in lines armed with opposition research to hammer the Governor from the get-go.
Conservatives in the race will quickly turn their guns on him. In the next few months, Perry is more a threat to Bachmann than he is Romney. Watch for an intense struggle from the conservative candidates to become the conservative choice. That means the gloves will come off.
And we welcome that. Perry has been an outspoken and conservative voice in the last several years. And this Presidential debate badly needs voices like his.
Perry is a formidable man, and he has as good a shot as any, or so it appears right now, to be the GOP standard bearer next fall.
1. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Over the last decade Texas has created more than half of all the new jobs in the entire country. From December 2000 to December 2010, Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 1.6 million jobs were added to the national payroll. 907,000 of those jobs were in Texas.
Conservatives are likely to say that government doesn't create jobs, the private sector does. While that is certainly true, ads that point out that Governor Perry presided over such Texas-sized job creation during his tenure will be impactful with any electorate. It will also be an issue that draws an immediate contrast with the more Massachusetts-sized job creation record of Mitt Romney.
2. Fresh Face In A Lackluster Crowd: As the new face in the crowd, Perry is sure to eat up a lot of the media coverage in the coming weeks. While it's the slowest news period of the election cycle, being August in an off-year and post-Ames straw poll at that, it is still a strong advantage when a crowded field is fighting for every column inch.
The coverage Perry is sure to garner is the kind of free media that candidates like Rick "Google" Santorum have never received and candidates like Tim Pawlenty would have killed for before exiting the race.
There is no one candidate that has a lock on the nomination, or even a true plurality of primary voter support right now. The lackluster nature to the primary field means voters will also give Perry a thorough vetting.
But being a fresh face is a positive for only so long. As Ross Kaminsky wisely points out today, in the end authenticity will matter much more. As we point out in the Con section, Perry will have a number of questions to answer to prove his authentic conservative bona fides.
3. Political Skills: Perry is a highly skilled political operator. He doesn't possess the awkwardness of Mitt Romney, the low-key personality of Tim Pawlenty, or the gift for gaffes like Michele Bachmann.
His retail skills were on hand during a recent county GOP dinner where Michele Bachmann attended. A Politico article on the event reported that while Bachmann showed up late and with her own soundtrack, pushing her rockstar image, Perry came early and methodically worked the crowd table-by-table — a skill that is highly regarded in the retail politics-focused Iowa Caucus.
Perry has never lost any of his 10 elections in his lifetime, including his most recent Gubernatorial primary with an opponent who was a sitting US Senator who raised $20 million plus. His opponents underestimate his campaign skills at their own peril.
4. Tea Party / Establishment Balance: Despite a virtual lifetime in government, Rick Perry was one of the most successful candidates in the country at garnering Tea Party support in 2010, keeping a heavy focus on states rights in fighting back against Obamacare and the failed stimulus boondoggle.
This ability to tap grassroots support as well as big dollar donors will make him a formidable candidate, some may say even a hybrid of the strengths of Bachmann and Romney without their corresponding weaknesses.
1. Immigration: Tom Tancredo ripped Perry a new one over his immigration stance in Politico recently, exposing a, so far, little discussed blemish on his conservative record. Immigration isn't the dominant issue it was in the 2008 primaries, with an electorate almost singularly focused on spending and the economy, but it's never far from the minds of many conservative activists.
Perry was not a supporter of Arizona's law popular with conservatives and has supported legislation allowing in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants, something that doesn't find much support among primary voters.
Whether the issue will resonate this cycle has yet to be seen, as it's been virtually ignored by every other primary contender thus far.
2. Spending: Over the course of Perry’s ten-year tenure atop Texas’s government he has doubled Texas’s debt.
His 2010 Democrat Gubernatorial opponent ineffectively leveled this charge at him, a charge Politifact called “true.”
While it didn’t damage Perry last cycle in a general election, a nationwide Republican primary electorate still fuming about the debt ceiling is an entirely different story.
In a primary that will be more than anything about spending and the size of government, a doubling of debt is not something Governor Perry will want to have on his opponents’ TV ads.
3. Long Record: Having been in government nearly three decades, Perry has a voting and policy record a mile long. No matter how conservative most of his decisions may have been, opposition researchers are sure to find plenty of votes, quotes and other sundry items hiding in the haystack.
Here's one that is certain to bother just about every Republican voter: Rick Perry served as Al Gore's Texas Chairman when Gore ran for President in 1988. Speeches from that time in his political life are sure to show up in an ad or two.
Other issues have already popped up, including Perry's attempt at mandating the HPV vaccine for young girls in Texas. Anything resembling a health mandate is not a policy positive in the primary.
There is sure to be more to come on this front in the coming weeks. At this point it's what Donald Rumsfeld might call the known unknown.
4. Lack of Private Sector Experience: Mitt Romney has already trotted this line of attack out and it will likely be a major contrast Romney tries to draw with Perry. While Governor Perry did see an enormous explosion in job creation as Governor, he has not had much experience outside government. First elected to the Texas Legislature in 1984 as a Democrat, Perry has not been off the government payroll ever since.
After three terms in the Legislature, Perry switched to the Republican Party shortly before running for and becoming the Texas Agriculture Commissioner for two terms. He was elected Lt. Governor in 1998, and when then-Governor Bush rose to the Presidency, Perry became Governor, going on to become the longest serving Governor in the country today.
With an anti-government electorate, a personal bank account stocked more from the Texas taxpayer than the Texas consumer could hurt Perry in a major way.
5. Late Entrant: Presidential primary candidates who tried to swoop in late, like Fred Thompson in 2008 and Wesley Clark in 2004, or even fellow Texas conservative Phil Gramm in 1996, haven't fared so well. Presidential campaigns are enormous undertakings, requiring operations to be set up in multiple states, massive fundraising, and trying to woo state legislators and other power players in the early states into giving you endorsements and the assistance of their political machines.
Expectations are also built up high among the media and primary electorate for late entrants. The media loves new faces, as they quickly tire of hearing the same stump speeches from the same candidates, and are already building a nearly insurmountable wall of expectations that Perry will struggle to overcome.
He is off to a slow start in Colorado, where he greeted a who’s who audience at the Western Conservative Summit with a speech that everyone derided as boring, abrupt and poorly scripted. This may have just been a bad day, but for this one small state in a big nomination fight, it is a bad early impression he will have to correct.
It's going to be a long campaign, and with the race starting so unseasonably late, Perry's late arrival won't have the detrimental effect that it might have had in 2008. Michele Bachmann entered the race less than two months ago and while Romney has been quietly running for years, he only announced late this Spring.
One thing is for sure: with Rick Perry in and Tim Pawlenty out, this field is beginning to take shape.