Until Perry's entrance, there had been a lot of support for the various declared candidates, but there had also been a lot of unhappiness, a sense that none of the candidates was quite up to the task of beating President Obama, that none of the candidates was lighting the party's fire as someone that could appeal to the base, bridge the establishment's interests with the tea party interests, and -- at the same time -- occupy a position of national leadership. Indeed, one recent poll revealed less than half (45%) of registered Republican primary voters were satisfied with the field that included most of the candidates we've seen thus far.
Yes, some of the candidates have ignited a lot of intense support for themselves, especially House members Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, but Americans have not elected a member of the House of Representatives to the presidency -- or even run a member from the House of Representatives on the Republican or Democratic ticket -- since the 1800s.
There is a general consensus in the party that unless House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan were to enter the race, there's little chance that historical pattern would be broken. House members are simply too unknown or not quite "big enough" to run on behalf of the entire country.
Opinion: Who's the real Rick Perry?
All eyes and ears are on Perry now. And his entrance into the race has already shown something quite telling, if quite unnoticed. On the day he announced, he bested the national front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll as a write-in candidate. Yes, it is true Romney did not invest in the Ames straw poll, but he did participate in the debate two days prior, and his name was on the ballot. Neither was the case for Perry, and, more importantly, Perry did not invest in Ames either.
To repeat, he was a write-in candidate. Now, the most recent poll we have of likely Republican voters puts Perry in first place, beating both Romney and Bachmann by double digits. And this, with merely an announcement to run.
Yes, Perry has a lot to overcome to continue his first place position, and he will have a lot to defend -- especially several past statements about states' rights. His recent line about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, that "we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas," were he to "print more money," and that such a policy would be "almost treacherous, or treasonous," has raised eyebrows,as well.
As many others have put it in different ways, the kind of language that has worked in Texas will need to be tempered for a national stage and candidacy. In full disclosure, I am friendly with Perry and have spoken with him both about his policies and candidacy, and he realizes all of this. I especially believe he illustrated that with what was perhaps the most telling line in his campaign announcement last weekend: "I'm a Texan and proud of it. But first, and foremost, I'm an incredibly proud American."
There will be a balancing needed between Texas style and accent and national acceptability. But, before he tilts too strongly toward the latter, it is important to recognize the Texas part should not be fully disowned. It is not only a big state with a lot of votes, it still captures a big part of the American imagination -- even if it is a punching bag for much of the cultural left.
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