By Francis Wilkinson
Mitt Romney is on a roll. Texas Governor Rick Perry still leads in polls of Republican primary voters, but as pollster Charles Franklin blogged recently, Perry's lead appeared to be shrinking even before last Thursday's Fox News debate in Florida, where Perry again fell flat.
The reaction of key Republicans to Perry's debating skills (the headline on William Kristol's editorial at the Weekly Standard: "Yikes") seems likely to encourage skeptical Republican donors and voters to give Romney another look. Remarkably, even key leaders of the Tea Party appear ready to abandon their Romneyphobia if things keep moving his way.
Yet Perry might have a hidden strength that will grow more apparent over time. Using the RealClearPolitics polling averages, the other candidates in the race are currently attracting a collective 30.6 percent of the primary vote. For example, Michele Bachmann (8.2 percent) and Ron Paul (7.8 percent) combine for a sizable 16 percent. Presuming that the prospects for those two candidates decline, their voters will sooner or later be up for grabs. How likely is Mitt Romney to get the Bachmann vote? The Paul vote?
My guess is not very. The situation may be analogous to the Democratic presidential race in 2007. Like Mitt Romney in this year's Republican field, Hillary Clinton was the establishment candidate. Many of the liberal voters who supported second-tier candidates like Joe Biden or Chris Dodd had already made a decision not to support the establishment choice, and that was not a great sign for Clinton heading into 2008.
After several tough weeks, Perry still needs to prove that he can play at the presidential level. But given the number of votes that stand to come his way as the field shrinks, if he can play through the pain he could still find himself crossing the goal line to the nomination next year.
-0- Sep/26/2011 15:41 GMT