Numerous preemptive obituaries are being written for Governor Rick Perry's campaign. These efforts are premature because they fail to understand and appreciate the fickle winds of political fortune.
Governor Perry has substantial political assets that make him a potent candidate and that will give him another chance to prove himself to Republican voters.
Each candidate brings their own set of positives and negatives to the game:
Mitt Romney has money to burn, establishment support, business experience, and passable debating skills. He also has a record far to the left of the majority of Republicans, a history of changing his position on major issues, and gives the impression that he will let you down when your back is turned.
Herman Cain has business experience, a high likability factor, and a fresh approach to conventional problems. He also has a propensity for confusing statements, no history of political success, and seems less vested in his own campaign than are his supporters.
Newt Gingrich has laser-like intelligence, a thorough understanding of policy choices, and excellent debating skills. He also has two ex-wives, a tendency to talk too much, and a manner that strikes many independents and women as smug or arrogant.
Rick Perry is not an able debater. In fact he seems to be bored with the entire exercise and I don't blame him for that. The process that currently passes for "debate" is a valueless mixture of antagonistic press conference and TV quiz show. Rick Perry is not a policy wonk. Neither was Ronald Reagan. Neither was Dwight Eisenhower. Neither was George Washington.
What Governor Perry does have is:
A demonstrated ability to win elections.
A demonstrated understanding of how to lead and govern.
A Reaganesque capacity to touch the "mystic chords of memory" that bind us together.
A large stockpile of cash.
A set of opponents who all have significant electoral problems of their own.
While being ahead is intuitively always better than being behind, the clear political fact is that polls in October-November-December, don't win elections in January and February. An Iowa State University poll published on November 18, 2003 showed Howard Dean at 29%, Dick Gephardt at 21%, John Kerry at 15%, and John Edwards at 8%. A Pew Research poll published on December 2, 2003 showed Dean at 26%, Gephardt at 22%, Kerry at 9%, and Edwards at 5%. (H/T nationalpolls.com)
The Democrat's experience in 2004 is I think highly relevant as it was largely the mirror image of 2012. Eight years ago Democrats loathed George W. Bush just as conservatives today can't stomach Barack Obama. Like Obama now, Bush was widely seen as vulnerable and thus there was a wide open scrum for the Democrat nomination.
For all his money Mitt Romney has been unable to close the deal with Republican voters. For all his current polling success, Herman Cain still appears to be a long shot to stay the distance. For all of his smarts and ability Newt Gingrich retains major downside risks.
The flaws of his opponents, together with his own considerable skill and potential, leaves an opening the size of Texas for Governor Rick Perry.