WASHINGTON — Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is about to shake up the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
While much of the field of contenders wrangles with one another in Iowa this weekend, Perry plans to steal some of their thunder with a headline-grabbing sprint through three of the states that kick off the nomination voting next winter: South Carolina, New Hampshire and then Iowa itself.
He plans to tell South Carolina Republicans on Saturday that he intends to jump into the race. And a new McClatchy-Marist poll found that he's already in second place, well ahead of a dozen other established or potential GOP candidates and close behind the putative front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"Mitt Romney remains a top tier candidate but has not really done much over time to secure that role," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the poll.
"If we call him a front-runner, we probably have to write that in pencil and keep an eraser close by. Perry has clearly established himself in the anti-Romney slot. That's a lot for having done very little."
One reason for his support: Republicans haven't rallied to any one candidate. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., leads in Iowa, the site of the first precinct caucuses and where Christian conservatives have great influence. Romney leads in New Hampshire, where social conservatives have less sway.
Perry appeals to both economic conservatives — with his message of job creation in Texas — and social conservatives_ with his prayer rally last weekend underscoring his evangelical Christian faith.
"The prayer rally, oh, my God, that helped him," University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said of Perry's "pray and fast" event in Houston.
Sabato said that 60 percent of the turnout in Iowa was fundamentalist Christian, based on 2008 data. "We forget that target audience," he said.
Perry also may appeal to Republicans who are hungering for an economic voice to counter President Barack Obama.
Perry boasts that Texas has created 1 million jobs since he took office in December 2000, while the national economy has lost 1.5 million jobs.
Looked at another way, 37 percent of all net new American jobs since the recovery began were created in Texas, according to Richard Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Economists at the Dallas Federal Reserve found that since June 2009, Texas added 265,300 net jobs, out of 722,200 nationwide. New York was a distant second with 98,200 and Pennsylvania added 93,000.
Austin, Texas, political consultant Bill Miller, who advises candidates in both parties, said Perry's poll rise was a combination of factors. "He's an attractive guy with a good message at a time when other candidates haven't taken off. He's hot. Everybody wants to have something different. With the Houston event, he secured his bona fides with the evangelicals. He formalized his contract with that event. He had a big crowd. He looked like a winner. He's helped by this diminished economy as well."
Veteran Texas Democratic consultant George Shipley thinks Perry has "cast his spell. ... It's a very classic old thing, a flirtation. He's been building relationships with evangelicals and deep conservatives for about a year."
Among candidates or possible candidates, the McClatchy-Marist poll found these choices by Republicans and Republican-leaving independents:
- Romney, 21 percent; Perry, 18 percent; Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, 10 percent; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 9 percent; Bachmann, 8 percent; business executive Herman Cain, 6 percent; Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, 3 percent; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, 3 percent; former Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, 2 percent; former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, 2 percent; former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, 2 percent; former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, 2 percent; political activist Fred Karger, less than 1 percent.
The poll found voters split over Obama, with 40 percent saying they definitely plan to vote for him, 40 percent saying they definitely plan to vote against him and 20 percent unsure.
Obama does have an advantage over several potential Republican rivals:
- He leads Romney 46-41, a 5-point lead.
A key reason for Perry being the weakest opponent is that he's weakest among independents.
Obama led Romney among independents by 41-35, a 6-percentage-point lead. The president led Pawlenty among the pivotal voting bloc by 49-37, a 12-point edge. Obama led Bachmann among independents by 46-34, also a 12-point advantage, and Perry by 49-30, a 19-point lead.
The poll also found mixed results for two possible candidates, Giuliani and Palin.
It found Obama leading Giuliani by 48-43, suggesting that Giuliani ties Romney as the strongest possible Republican challenger at this point.
It found the president leading Palin 56-35, a 21-point lead that suggests that Palin would be the weakest challenger among Republicans tested in the poll.
(Dave Montgomery of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this report from Texas.)
This survey of 1,000 adults was conducted last Tuesday through Thursday. People 18
and older who live in the continental U.S. Telephone numbers were selected based on a list of exchanges from throughout the nation. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers. The two samples then were combined. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. There are 807 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. There are 301 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 6.0 percentage points. The margin of error increases for cross-tabulations.
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