- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2011

ANALYSIS:

Although Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been hurt by poor debate and straw-poll performances — and in recent days by associations with a racial slur — top Republican officials think he nonetheless can survive the blows and remain a major contender for the party’s presidential nomination.

These party officials, whose neutrality in nomination contests requires their anonymity in discussing the candidates, have told The Washington Times that the structure of the 2012 primary race, funding advantages and weaknesses in other candidates mean Mr. Perry can hang with Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and the other top contenders.

These GOP officials and other top Republicans also note that it would be tough financially and logistically for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to enter the contest, which would further complicate an already clouded nomination picture.

“I believe it is still possible for Christie to enter the race, but I think that it is unlikely because of time,” said a Republican who had a key role in the 2008 presidential campaign. “He does have people around him who know how to organize a national campaign and get on the ballot, but it is mathematically impossible for anyone to win the nomination before April 24 under the new circumstances of Florida’s move.”

Last week, Florida, in violation of Republican National Committee rules, jumped its primary to Jan. 31, which will prompt Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to move their contests from February to early January in order to preserve the traditional calendar primacy. On Monday, South Carolina did exactly that, moving its primary to Jan. 21, and Nevada officials agreed over the weekendto move their caucuses.

Also on Monday, Perry allies continued to rebut criticism over a Sunday report in The Washington Post that Mr. Perry regularly hosted gatherings at a West Texas hunting camp with the word “Niggerhead” painted on a rock at the entrance to its acreage. The Perry campaign said the offensive word was painted over in the 1980s, soon after the Perry family began leasing the hunting camp.

Perry supporters noted his long-standing reputation in his home state of welcoming black Texans into the GOP and appointing them to high positions.

“He appointed the first African-American chief justice of the state Supreme Court, his former chief of staff and general counsels, university regents, parks and wildlife commissioner and other high-profile positions,” former Rep. Bob McEwen of Ohio said.

And while the latest primary moves have the effect of shortening the window for new people to get in the race and raise funds, a complaint already being made by the Texas governor’s campaign, party officials who spoke to The Times said Mr. Perry, a tea-party favorite, can keep his campaign going until April 24 at least and probably into May.

Even by that time, these officials say, no candidate will have been able to accumulate enough delegates to clinch the nomination — for two reasons.

First, three of the five states jumping ahead of the RNC-set calendar will lose half their voting delegates to the August GOP presidential nominating convention in Tampa. Only Iowa and Nevada won’t be penalized because their earliest caucuses merely begin a long process of delegate selection for the states.

Second, all the states that vote before April 1, whether or not they jump the calendar, have to award delegates proportionately, rather than the winner-take-all systems Republicans historically have favored. As seen in 2008, when Sen. John McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination long before Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama had settled the Democratic race, proportionate systems tend to string out close contests involving well-funded candidates.

Mr. Perry isn’t likely to run out of campaign funding, for several reasons. He has a “super-PAC” that can accept unlimited amounts from corporations and individuals. It can use that money to buy ads on his behalf and against his opponents — and for get-out-the-vote efforts in each primary election.

The Texan’s moneyed backers — including big corporations and some of the wealthiest evangelicals in America — will be able to continue bundling $2,500 contributions from their friends and associates so long as he doesn’t drop out of the contest.

“The super-PACs can run ads and do direct mail, but they can’t pay campaign staff, and that’s a large part of a presidential campaign budget,” a senior GOP official said privately. “The Perry campaign will still rely on bundlers.”

Another source of help will be the tea party, which likes Mr. Perry but doesn’t have its ideal candidate — and would not, even with a Christie candidacy.

Perry had a base within the tea party, but Christie does not. His positions on some issues fly in the face of the tea party’s, and no one has gone through his closet to see what is hanging inside,” said Michael Karem, who has worked in the presidential campaign of every Republican nominee since Richard M. Nixon.

Therefore, some activists say their tea-party movement by and large wants Mr. Perry to stay in the contest as long as possible, if only to make sure the front-running Mr. Romney, whom they regard with suspicion, does not stray too far, if at all, from Mr. Perry’s conservatism.

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