Perry's 2012 campaign echoes 2010 primary race

The source also said Romney’s attempts to paint Perry as unelectable in a general election are similar to what Hutchison tried in 2010.

“Hutchison was arguing ‘I’m the best person to beat [Democratic nominee] Bill White.’ Romney’s doing the same thing – ‘I’m the best to beat Obama,’ ” the source said. “People have said this about the governor before and he’s proven them wrong. It’s obviously a bigger scale now, but it’s the same thing that Romney’s saying.”

Medina, who has a long-standing relationship with Paul, agreed that the dynamics are similar.

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“I see Bachmann, Santorum and Ron Paul coming at him from the right, you would certainly put them in my camp,” she told The Hill. “Romney is a lot closer to the Kay Bailey Hutchison camp than the Debra Medina camp.”

Perry won his 2010 primary with 51 percent, while Hutchison was held to approximately 30 percent and Medina was held below 20 percent. That was partly due to his strengths, but also because of Hutchison’s and Medina’s weaknesses.

Romney has a large war chest, which Hutchison had but did not use because she was saving it for a runoff against Perry, assuming he would be held to under 50 percent in the first round of voting. The former Massachusetts governor has also been more willing to attack Perry than Hutchison, hitting him for calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.”

Bachmann made waves in a debate last week by attacking Perry for his executive order to require high-school girls get vaccinated against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer — something Medina made a big issue in her campaign.

Both use the same phrase — “crony capitalism” — to attack Perry’s record of helping campaign supporters with their business interests.

But while the charges against him are the same, Perry now has to explain them to a national audience. 

Experts disagree on how different the national Republican electorate is from the Texas base.

Rice University Professor Robert Stein, another close observer of the gubernatorial race, says Perry is “perfectly positioned” to appeal to an increasingly anti-establishment Tea Party base, and that Romney has some of the same failings that Hutchison did.

“Perry is advantaged greatly by opportunity, which he jumped at, and the only thing that gets in his way going forward is himself,” he said. “What Rick Perry’s got going for him is a brand that sticks … they’ve really effectively branded Rick Perry.”

Jillson disagrees, arguing that Perry’s bravado on issues like Social Security and climate change will hurt him with Republican voters more in states outside the South.

“I think things will play out differently this time around. Texas is a peculiar political environment for which Perry is perfectly fitted,” he said. “The way he thinks and talks about politics is attuned to Texas and to its bombastic style. He’s taken it to the national level and has been somewhat taken aback by the reception to some of that.”

The truth may be somewhere in the middle: the more conservative, evangelical Christian base that dominates the polls in early-voting Iowa and South Carolina have so far received Perry warmly, while more secular and centrist Republicans in places like early-voting New Hampshire and Nevada have not. Perry’s need to prove he is electable will also be a greater challenge nationwide, because of Texas’s strong Republican lean.

Stein said that argument will become easier the lower Obama’s poll numbers sink.

“As Obama’s numbers and ratings fall Perry’s support among Independents goes up,” he said, “Republicans will say ‘I know he’s a little crazy but he’s my type of crazy, and I’ll take who I want.’ Those numbers are getting narrower and narrower. They’ll say ‘of course he can beat Obama — anybody can.’ ”


—This story was last updated at 4:15 p.m.

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