Perry's quest for a second look
With time running short before the first votes are cast in the Republican presidential contest, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is urgently trying to convince voters that his candidacy warrants a second look. He is retooling his campaign with a newly emphatic anti-Washington message and steering the race into a sharper ideological contrast with Mitt Romney.A new team of advisers for Mr. Perry, recruited to join his tight circle of Texas strategists, is conducting new research in early-voting states to study how to better introduce his candidacy and seize upon the vulnerabilities of his rivals, particularly Mr. Romney and Herman Cain, whose popularity and resilience has complicated his path.“I’m a doer, not a talker,” Mr. Perry says in a new television commercial scheduled to air Monday in Iowa, in which he looks directly into the camera and tells voters that he is not “a slick politician.”The advertising campaign will be amplified by his first statewide radio push, aides said, that is intended to elevate him back into the top tier of candidates. He was tied for fifth place, well behind the leaders, Mr. Romney and Mr. Cain, in the latest Iowa Poll published in The Des Moines Register on Sunday.As the strength of Mr. Romney and Mr. Cain face new tests, the race remains more fluid than polls suggest. The campaign is entering a critical period in November with an unsure and unsettled electorate. Only half of the candidates can afford substantial advertising, a fact that Mr. Perry is hoping to use to his advantage.“Obviously, this race is not settled at all,” Mr. Perry said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” He added, “We’ve got a war chest that allows us to get that message out there.”Two months before the Republican contest opens with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, two questions loom: Can Mr. Romney attract the three-quarters of Republicans in most polls who say they prefer to support another candidate? And can Mr. Perry — or another rival — emerge as a singular alternative to Mr. Romney by coalescing conservative support that is now dispersed?Mr. Perry’s low standing in state and national polls has given Mr. Romney the luxury of delaying his advertising campaign — effectively pushing back what is still expected to be another record-shattering year of advertising spending once all the presidential campaigns and outside groups fully engage.
Yet for all of Mr. Perry’s missteps, he has several advantages. He has built a bigger organization than any other candidate in the early-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina and has a natural affinity for retail campaigning that is the envy of many rivals.
“Governor Perry can win if he performs at his best level going forward,” said Henry Barbour, a member of the Republican National Committee from Mississippi and a fund-raiser for Mr. Perry. “The electorate is dying for the authentic conservative to step forward, and Governor Perry is that guy. He’s just got to demonstrate it.”
As the parameters of the race remain in flux, the major outside groups planning television campaigns and the Perry and Romney advertising teams are circling each other, seeing who will go on the attack first.
Though Mr. Cain has matched or slightly outperformed Mr. Romney in several recent polls, Mr. Romney’s strategists have not considered confronting him, apparently sharing the view throughout the party that Mr. Cain’s rise could be short-lived and that to challenge him in advertising would only elevate his candidacy....Perry is now running the kind of campaign he should have come out of the gate with. Hopefully, for him, it is not too late. Romney and Cain have enough negatives that Perry may start looking like the better alternative soon. Perry needs to become a more discipline campaigner who stays on message and does not allow himself to be distracted. The debates have been a huge distraction for him and he is going to have to be coached to turn every question into an aswer that supports his campaign and is not defensive.
But Mr. Romney’s aides have had their eye on Mr. Perry, given his fund-raising prowess and record of galvanizing ideologically conservative voters who still express misgivings about Mr. Romney. Comfortably ahead of Mr. Perry by wide margins in polls in all early-voting states, Mr. Romney’s aides say they see no need yet to begin spending money on ads to prop Mr. Romney up or knock Mr. Perry down....