The Perry factor

Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn't perform well at the last two debates and Republicans continue to wonder whether he can go all the way; the money men, especially, continue to hesitate. But the polls confirm he is the front-runner. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney keeps hoping Social Security will sink Perry — he of the Ponzi-scheme and monstrous-lie rhetoric — but even in the senior-rich Sunshine State, Perry has bested Romney and taken his lead.

Romney has pivoted quickly from running a general-election campaign to running a primary campaign again; he's even going to compete in Iowa now. Sure, Romney still has a lead in New Hampshire, where Perry is in fourth place, but he is well on his way to winning Iowa and could win South Carolina as well, making Romney's path to the nomination quite tricky. At this rate, Perry is also likely to improve his standing in New Hampshire.

There's not much for Romney to do while he waits for Perry to implode — he is hoping his "electability" argument sways key primary voters, particularly the donors, and that in the end the establishment will win again in a newly divided GOP now under the influence of a strong brew of Tea. Meanwhile, Perry is shrewdly making the same appeal behind closed doors, that he is the more electable of the two men. According to The Washington Post, Perry thunders on the campaign trail but speaks in more measured tones when appealing for money, telling givers that he is likely to do well with Latino voters, that he has an unbroken record of electoral victory and that he can campaign the best of all candidates on jobs; he even points out that he complimented President Obama for killing Osama bin Laden.  

Karl Rove wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that Perry "has had two OK-to-mediocre debate performances, with the second regarded as weaker. This is dangerous, since much of his support is based on what people believe him to be rather than what they know him to be." Rove advises Perry to go after Romney on healthcare reform. Should Perry succeed in shifting the current narrative from his Social Security comments to Romney's defense of a healthcare mandate, he could build considerable steam. Romney's problem is that voters don't know that much about Perry beyond the fact that he doesn't think much of Social Security, and so far that's not a problem for them.


IS THERE ACTUALLY A THIRD PLACE BEHIND PERRY AND ROMNEY FOR PAUL, BACHMANN OR HUNTSMAN? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, Sept. 27. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.