Watching now front-runner Texas governor Rick Perry campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in New Hampshire over the weekend, it was easy to see how he had managed to leap over Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann in the polls. He has charisma and the kind of unapologetic swagger many conservatives are looking for and touts a record of job creation in Texas. Primary voters who came to see him speak found some of his more 0ver-the-top comments to be less evidence of un-electability than proof that the guy sticks to his guns and “tells it like it is”. (Story in this week’s print magazine.)
But last night’s Republican debate threw up two red flags. First, calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” doesn’t play as well on national television as it does in a more intimate back and forth with voters when its couched in folksy, I’m-just-bein’-straight-with-ya rhetoric. Every time Perry repeated the phrase last night, it was hard not to imagine Democrats cutting an attack ad.
Second, having to share the stage with a fellow Texan familiar with the details of your record presents a problem — especially if he is a libertarian and you are trying to run against Romney from the right. It was Rep. Ron Paul who last night put the pressure on Perry over his executive order that Grade Six girls in Texas get vaccines against a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer — portraying it as not only an assault on parental rights, but also as an abuse of an executive order to get around taking the matter to the state legislature. And in past years, it was Paul who has criss-crossed the country denouncing the toll-roads Perry tried to build in Texas, portraying them as part of a nefarious “Nafta Superhighway.”
It will be interesting to see what impact the debate has on Perry’s poll numbers — and how the Texan-on-Texan dynamic will unfold going forward.