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The message is seen as a swipe at Mr. Perry’s long career in politics, which dates to 1984 and includes stints as a state lawmaker, state commissioner of agriculture and now governor, a post he has held for the past decade since taking over for President-elect George W. Bush in 2000.

A National Journal survey of Republican insiders released last week found the party’s political operatives overwhelmingly believe Mr. Romney has a better chance to defeat Mr. Obama next November than does Mr. Perry.

Democrats say Mr. Romney hurts his general election chances every time he courts tea party voters. Also, in the contrast between the shoot-from-the-hip persona of the gun-toting Mr. Perry and the more staid style of the New England businessman, Mr. Romney has drawn questions about whether he can relate to average voters.

His nuanced nature was on display when he quibbled with news reports that stated he was quadrupling the size of his beach house in La Jolla, Calif. The expansion, he said, would only double the home’s living space.

Mr. Perry, meanwhile, lived up to his rough-and-tumble image Wednesday night when he expressed no second thoughts about the more than 230 people who have been executed in Texas during his tenure.

Mr. Perry’s approach has paid off in the early days of his campaign, both in the polls and in the money race.

The Texan has corralled hundreds of major donor networks, and gobbled up lots of support from tea partyers and fellow evangelical Christians — two key voting blocs that have never been enamored of Mr. Romney, partly because of the former governor’s Mormon faith.