International Business Times spoke to Jamie P. Chandler, a political science professor at Hunter College in New York City, to assess Perry’s candidacy.
IBTIMES: When Rick Perry announced his candidacy for president, did he become the automatic Republican front-runner? Or does Romney still claim that spot? CHANDLER: Perry is not an automatic frontrunner. Until the official start of election season in January, the candidates are running in what’s called the ‘Invisible Primary.’ During this period, the candidates are testing their viability via media coverage, fundraising, name recognition, attractiveness to key state party leaders, and endurance. It’s still too early to rank where Perry falls in the race. Romney continues to lead in fundraising and Bachmann in media coverage, so they’re the presumptive frontrunners. Ron Paul is also doing well in State party Convention Straw Polls, and may prove to be the “Dark Horse.” The true test of Perry’s electability over the next several months will be in how he manages his campaign to gain momentum. This is a difficult task for any candidate, even those who are assumed to have a high chance of winning. In November of 2007, 42 percent of Republican voters said they would vote for [Rudy] Giuliani if the election were held that month, but his campaign strategy ended those hopes pretty quickly by February 2010. Perry is also going to need to be very careful on the kinds of statements he makes over the next several days as some Conservatives have already criticized him for his statement questioning President Obama’s patriotism.
Newt Gingrich also made some particularly controversial statements during the first week of his campaign, which set him far behind the pack right out the starting gate. Perry’s “treasonous comments on Bernanke are not playing well amongst moderate Republican officials because this tactic was supported by two previous Republican administrations, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush’s. However, Tea Party rhetoric has turned Republicans away from it because it plays well with less informed voters who think printing more money is just the government’s way of hiding spending. The same argument about increasing currency supplies came up during the early part of the Great Depression when Republicans advocated keeping the money supply tight so as not to increase prices for consumers. However, evidence indicates that a short-term increase in the money supply sparks inflation and encourages consumers to buy now versus wait until later when goods get more expensive. Unfortunately, the Hoover administration back in the early 1930s refused to move forward with this recommendation and deflation accelerated, one of many catastrophic economic decisions he made during his Presidency. Interestingly, of the arguments that Republican candidates are making today on the economy are similar to those Republican made in the early 1930s.
IBTIMES: Perry has been Texas governor for three straight terms -- a record, I believe. Obviously, he’s very popular amongst Texans. What were some of his major legislative accomplishments?
CHANDLER: Perry led a number of legislative efforts, including increasing health care funding by $6 billion in 2002, as well as education funding and he created new scholarship programs, including $300 million for the Texas Grant Scholarship. He also took a tough stance on crime, vetoing a ban on executing intellectually-disabled convicts. He is a strong advocate of tort and malpractice reform, and he turned down $555 million dollars in stimulus money for unemployment insurance in 2008. In 2005, he signed a bill limiting late-term abortions, and in 2011, he approved a mandatory ultrasound bill which requires doctors to provide a sonogram before the start of an abortion procedure. Currently, Perry is leading an effort to balance Texas’s budget for the 2012-2013 biennium budget period. These accomplishments will draw strong support from Tea Party and Social Conservatives as Perry seeks to court them over the next several months.
IBTIMES: Texas has a relatively strong economy and has reportedly created thousands of new jobs during the recession. Would this be Perry’s biggest draw among voters? Or does he get too much credit for this job-creation?
CHANDLER: Managing and improving the economy on a state, or national level, does not rest solely in the hands of any one politician. There are a number of factors that influence the health of the economy beyond legislative and political efforts, including the business cycle, productivity, and corporate capital investment.
From a campaign perspective, Perry can claim credit for Texas’s lower than national average unemployment rate (8.2 percent vs. 9.1 percent nationally) and the creation of 237,000 jobs in the state since 2009.
However, he may be put on the defensive for Texas having the second highest percentage of workers paid at or below minimum wage (9.5 percent vs. 6 percent nationally), and 26 percent of Texas workers not having health insurance.
IBTIMES: Who are Perry’s core constituents in Texas? Does he have support among the state’s blacks and Hispanic voters?
CHANDLER: Governor Perry’s core constituents are men, Whites, middle aged, and higher income voters. In the 2010 election, 57 percent of men and 69 percent of Whites voted for Perry. And these results are similar to who supports Republican candidates in general. Perry also got about 60 percent support amongst voters 45 and older, which will help him in primary races because these voters show the highest turnout.
In 2004, 45- to 64-year olds voted more for George Bush, which helped give him an edge over John Kerry.
Perry gets very strong support from voters with household incomes over $100,000, with his 2010 reelection boosted by 62 percent support from this group. On the other hand, Perry has little support from African-American and Latino voters. In the 2010 gubernatorial election in Texas, while Perry defeated his challenger Bill White, Perry only received 38 percent of the Latino vote and 11 percent of the African-American vote. This could represent a challenge to Perry should he get the Republican nomination. Hispanic voters, nationally, are the fastest-growing voter segment and they gave President Obama an edge in a number of states in 2008.
IBTIMES: What do you see as Perry’s principal drawbacks are as far as the national electorate goes?
CHANDLER: Perry has made a number of controversial comments as a result of his ideologically pure conservatism, which may put off swing voters. His stances on gay marriage and abortion may alienate a large share of moderate and independent voters, and his criticism of Medicare, social security, and healthcare spending may push older voters to support President Obama. Perry has recently pushed for a state-rights effort to refuse federal funds to support Medicaid. This effort has jeopardized health care coverage for about three million disabled Texans. Because of Perry’s hard-line conservative views, he would have a difficult time sticking to the middle during a general election, but, at the same time, he will be very attractive to Republican primary voters who on average are strong partisans and tend to turnout to vote more in primary elections.
IBTIMES: Does Perry have fervent support of the Tea Party set? CHANDLER: Perry is actively courting Tea Party voters, but Michele Bachmann has a strong lead with this portion of the electorate. It's still too early to tell if Perry’s campaign will be able to erode Bachmann’s lead amongst these voters. However, although congressional Tea Partiers are getting strong play in the media, the Tea Party effort on the voter level is declining. Several Tea Party events over the past several months have been canceled due to lack of interest.
IBTIMES: If Perry should get the nomination, what kind of vice presidential candidate will he have to pick to ‘balance the ticket’? A Northerner? A woman? A Republican moderate?
CHANDLER: It is unlikely that Perry will seek to balance the ticket with a moderate Republican. He would probably choose a strong conservative from a Midwestern or Southern state who has an ability to mobilize voters quickly. A Southerner would be particularly attractive because historically, candidates with Southern running mates do better in national elections. Perry may also choose someone who has experience that offsets his weaknesses, such as those in foreign policy, international affairs, and managing “inside the beltway” politicians. One of the reasons George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney as his running mate was that Cheney had many years of experience working on military and defense issues, and he was a strong Washington insider. Perry may decide on a woman candidate as there are a number of strong female conservatives in Republican circles. Should Michele Bachmann do well enough in the primaries, a Perry/Bachmann ticket may be very attractive to Republicans and inject enough excitement into the campaign to increase the likelihood of high Republican turn-out.
IBTIMES: Does his connection to fellow Texan George W. Bush hurt his appeal across the country?
CHANDLER: Although Perry and Bush are both from Texas, they are two different brands of Republicans. Perry is much more ideologically pure on social and economic issues which will offset any connections that voters may infer. However, former presidents tend to be seen better as time goes on rather than during their presidency. So any connections that may be drawn by Democrats will have little play during the general election.
IBTIMES: Would Perry have to tone down his ‘conservative Christian’ identity in order to broaden his appeal?
CHANDLER: If Perry gets the Republican nomination, he will need to stick to the middle to gain Moderate voters. However, this could represent a challenge because of his strong conservative views. But this is not a dictum factum weakness. President Obama ran a strong liberal Democratic campaign during the primaries of 2008, and was able to moderate during the general election. During his presidency, this moderation has had a deleterious effect on his support amongst his core liberal constituency, which will require him to spend a lot of time remobilizing them in 2012. Perry will need to execute strong campaign tactics and implement more moderate rhetoric if he makes it to the general election.