All major polls in the past three weeks have shown Rick Perry in the lead for the Republican presidential nomination. He has attracted both substantial support as a potential best-of-both-worlds candidate between Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, and substantial criticism for some of his very conservative positions. A previous article looked at 10 positions that could make Perry unelectable once he has to win over the general electorate rather than just Republican voters. On the flip side, here are five reasons he could have a good chance.
5. The Texas economy looks strong.
Every Republican candidate argues that he or she could run the economy better than President Obama has, but Perry has done the most to back it up. He has been governor for almost 11 years, and in that time, Texas has surpassed New York as the second largest state economy in the country, behind California. In 2010, according to USA Today, Texas accounted for 8.3 percent of the national economy, up almost a full percentage point from 2000. And Perry has effectively advertised the low tax rates and subsidies that, he says, have allowed businesses in Texas to hire more people without burdensome government regulations or taxes.
There are a number of questions surrounding the unemployment rate in Texas under Perry's leadership. The state economy has added jobs at a time when the national economy cannot seem to do so, but many of these have been low-paying jobs. Moreover, it is difficult to say how much of the strong economy can be attributed to Perry's policies and how much is due to other factors. However, in terms of burnishing Perry's reputation and electoral prospects, those questions don't matter very much. If Obama is pitted against Perry in the general election, voters are going to care more about whether the economy is doing well than why. If economic trends continue as they have been, Perry will have the advantage in that fight.
4. He has a near-perfect conservative record.
As the Republican status quo becomes more uniformly conservative, and especially as the Tea Party continues to exert a strong influence on the party, it is becoming increasingly difficult for candidates to win if they have ever supported a prominent liberal policy, or even some moderate policies. For example, Romney continues to be dogged by the health care reform law he supported as governor of Massachusetts, because it contained the same individual mandate that Republicans have excoriated in President Obama's health care law.
Even Perry has faced conservative criticism for once calling Hillary Clinton's 1993 health care reform effort most commendable. But on the whole, he has a longer and more consistent record of conservative policies than does any other candidate in the race. Bachmann's votes in Congress have been very consistently conservative as well, but she has not been an elected official for nearly as long as Perry has, so Perry still holds the edge.
3. He can appeal to both Tea Party and non-Tea Party Republicans.
Before Perry entered the race, the division between the two most prominent candidates, Romney and Bachmann, was clear. Romney appealed more to moderate and center-right voters, Bachmann appealed more to the Tea Party and other right-wing voters, and both faced a serious challenge in drawing support outside their base. Perry has managed to stake out a position between the two, as a sort of best-of-both-worlds candidate.
In terms of specific positions and policy ideas, Perry is much closer to Bachmann than to Romney, but he is very capable of poaching voters from the Romney camp as well, as evidenced by the recent polls that have shown him pushing handily past the former frontrunner. The Republicans' biggest weakness against President Obama was the lack of a candidate who could unite the disparate parts of the GOP electorate, and while Perry is polarizing in his own way, he has come closer to achieving that unity than any other candidate has so far. In a general election that will hinge largely on independent voters, that could be key.
2. He sticks to his convictions.
Like Perry's platform or hate it, he stands by it. Polarizing positions can be damaging to a campaign, but it is worse to be seen as waffling on important issues. Some of the laws he championed in Texas have been struck down -- for example, the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling found the state's ban on homosexual sodomy unconstitutional, and a federal district judge recently invalidated a law that would have required doctors to perform a sonogram before a woman could have an abortion -- but he did not back off. In both cases, he publicly lambasted the rulings, maintaining his reputation as a leader who does not abandon his convictions under fire.
This tendency can also be seen in his response to criticisms of his 2010 book, Fed Up, in which he took bold, controversial stances on everything from Social Security to evolution to the Supreme Court. He himself once said the book was the best concrete evidence that I'm really not running for president, because you're going to see me talking about issues that for someone running for public office, it's kind of been the third rail, if you will. Now that he has decided to run for president after all, the fact that he has been able to top multiple polls without disavowing the polarizing positions he took in his book is significant.
1. He has never lost an election.
Every election is different, and winning on the national stage is a much more difficult task than winning in one's own state, but it still says something that in his 27-year political career, Perry has never lost a race. This speaks somewhat to the fact that Texas leans to the right, but more than anything, it speaks to Perry's abilities as a campaigner. He is not especially charismatic or good at inspiring public outpourings of support -- those are President Obama's fortes, or at least they were in 2008 -- but he is very good at honing his platform down to a core message, choosing the best parts of his record to promote and skirting uncomfortable questions.
For example, in the three weeks since he formally announced his candidacy in mid-August, Perry has already picked the aspect of his record most likely to win him votes: the strength of the Texan economy in comparison to the national economy. He has repeatedly touted the benefits of loosening regulations and taxes on businesses, and he has pointed to job creation numbers in Texas to bolster his point. Meanwhile, he has been able to keep the conversation largely away from statements and stances that could alienate parts of the electorate -- for example, his 2009 remark that Texas might consider seceding from the United States, or his more recent accusation that it would be treasonous for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to print more money before the election. Quite simply, politics aside, Perry knows how to run a campaign.