- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Rick Perry’s entrance into the presidential race is a game-changer.

In just two days, the Texas governor leapt ahead of frontrunner Mitt Romney by double digits. The former Massachusetts governor still has important backing from the Republican establishment, which makes him a formidable candidate, but his task became more difficult the second Mr. Perry threw his 10-gallon hat into the ring.

A Monday Rasmussen poll shows Mr. Perry got a big bounce out of his Saturday announcement, jumping from 18 percent two weeks ago to 29 percent. The survey of likely Republican primary voters put Mr. Romney down four points, at 18 percent.

The gunslinger from the Lone Star State shoots from the hip, which can be an asset and a liability. Tea Partiers like him because he talks straight and doesn’t shy away from controversy, while insiders worry he is undisciplined and risky when speaking off-the-cuff.

He started the week by attacking Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, saying, “Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion.”

Karl Rove, the mastermind behind George W. Bush’s two winning presidential campaigns, told Fox News it wasn’t “a presidential statement,” adding, “it’s not smart politics, either. Gov. Perry is going to have to fight the impression that he’s a cowboy from Texas. This simply added to it.”

Mr. Perry’s spokesman, Mark Miner, responded that, “Most Americans would agree that printing and spending more money is not the answer to the economic issues facing the country.” He pointed out out that the governor was merely “expressing his frustration with the current economic situation and the out-of-control spending that persists in Washington.”

No doubt, all the conservative contestants can agree with that explanation, and the contest is tightening. The 2012 GOP primary is now a three-legged foot race between two governors who have executive experience and look presidential and a third leg made up of insurgents, Tea Partyers and the undeclared.

By winning the straw poll in her birth state, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann changed her status in the media as someone to mock to a serious contender. Popular Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished second in Iowa with 27.7 percent of the vote.

It’s a long road to the nomination, and anything can still happen at this point. The undeclared shadow candidates - Sarah Palin, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie - loom large in this race because the elephants have yet to coalesce around one person. The gap leaves the door open for someone to jump in and win everyone’s hearts.

President Obama’s approval rating has fallen to a dismal 39 percent, but he is - if nothing else - a talented campaigner who will have a $1 billion war chest behind him. The GOP primary fight is an important battlefield test to determine who is the strongest candidate to take on the O Force.

That someone needs to unify establishment fundraising with Tea Party enthusiasm to win the White House.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.

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