- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Virginia Republicans appear to be casting an early gaze toward two governors — Rick Perry of Texas and Mitt Romney, formerly of Massachusetts — as the field for their party’s presidential nomination sharpens into focus, state Republicans and political observers said Tuesday.

Mr. Perry, a conservative firebrand who has surged toward the top of national polls, already has had one big misstep since declaring his candidacy Saturday, saying Monday in Iowa that Texans might treat Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke “pretty ugly” if he prints more money between now and the 2012 election,adding that such an act would be “almost treasonous.”

But that might be the kind of rough-and-tumble style for which Virginia primary voters are looking, former Delegate Chris Saxman, Augusta Republican, said.

“My sense is that it’s going to become a two-man race in Virginia,” he said, referring to Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney. “I think you’ll see a fair number of people jump on the Perry bandwagon pretty soon. People will enthusiastically kick those tires.”

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who will serve as Mr. Romney’s Virginia campaign chairman as he did in 2008, thinks Mr. Romney will do much better this election cycle.

“There were a lot of people who didn’t know him and didn’t know about his record,” he said. “And it takes awhile to define yourself on a national political stage. I can’t think of a guy more capable [now] of reinvigorating the private sector than a guy who’s spent his life in the private sector.”

Mr. Romney dropped out of the 2008 race just days before the Virginia primary but still managed to get 4 percent of the vote.

Mr. Romney’s steely, businesslike style might not translate to success in Virginia, said Stephen Farnsworth, a George Mason University communications professor.

“I think Romney is fortunate to have Bolling’s support,” he said. “But Romney’s never struck me as the candidate Virginians are excited about.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell demurred Tuesday on MSNBC when asked whether the race for the GOP nomination was boiling down to Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney, repeating his position that a former governor should be the nominee, while praising Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and pizza mogul Herman Cain.

“Any of those people on the stage the other night will do a better job of guiding America toward prosperity and opportunity than what we’ve got now, and find [ways] to bridge the gap and bring Republicans and Democrats together,” he said.

Mrs. Bachmann’s win in the Iowa straw poll Saturday helped cement her as a serious contender. And a poll released earlier this month by Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling showed that the presidential primary in Virginia actually could depend on whether another former governor — Sarah Palin of Alaska — enters the race.

Without Mrs. Palin in the field, Mrs. Bachmann has 21 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent for Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney.

With Mrs. Palin in the race, Mr. Perry would lead with 20 percent, compared to 16 percent for Mr. Romney and 15 percent for Ms. Bachmann, according to the survey of 400 Virginia Republican primary voters, with a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

“One of the big questions is always: How many candidates are left standing when we get to Virginia?” Mr. Farnsworth said. “Our absurd [national] primary schedule puts so much emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire, there’s often few candidates left once the Virginia primary rolls around.”

Virginia has moved up its primary next year, from Feb. 12 in 2008 to March 6 next year.

Mr. Farnsworth added that Mr. Perry, with nearly 11 years as Texas governor, fits in with Republicans who previously have won in Virginia, notably Mr. McDonnell.

President Obama faces mixed results in the state he carried in 2008 — the first Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to do so.

According to a recent PPP survey of 500 Virginia voters, in possible 2012 match-ups, Mr. Obama leads Mr. Romney 47 percent to 43 percent; Mrs. Bachmann 49 percent to 40 percent; and Mr. Perry by 48 percent to 39 percent. The survey had a 4.4 percent margin of error.

“Simply put, the Republican field leaves no choice to be made by Virginia voters,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Alec Gerlach. “Each one of them has pledged allegiance to the tea party and along with it their extreme views.”

Still, the general election almost undoubtedly will hinge on the economy, Mr. Farnsworth said. “You tell me what unemployment is a year from now, and I’ll tell you who’s going to be president,” he said.