Rick Perry has locked in his front runner lead and in a novel twist of things, some Democrats are starting to panic. Why? Because the way Perry talks about immigration works to his advantage with hispanic immigrants and hispanic immigrants want someone other than Obama.At the same time, Michele Bachmann seems to have hit the self-destruct button on her campaign. Even Ed Rollins is less than "all in" for her it seems.Mitt Romney has a problem and it is bigger than Rick Perry's problem — he's boxing himself in on entitlement reform in a way that hurts him both with tea party activists and non-tea party activists.Then there's Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, and Santorum. They continue to struggle. A brouhaha has hit the Herman Cain campaign. Huntsman has no sense of humor. Santorum continues to be this year's Admiral Stockdale, and Gingrich's posturing at Monday's debate suggests a man reconciled to his fate.We'll get into it all in today's horserace.
Chris Matthews asked Ed Rollins the other night about supporting Michele Bachmann. On the surface he seemed to give the right answers. But it struck a lot of people as Ed sticking to a line and refusing to go further with support. Matthews needled him about it. It seemed clear Ed Rollins left the Bachmann campaign because of candidate relations.Then there is Bachmann herself. She scored a clean, clear shot on Rick Perry in Monday's debate. Had she stopped there she'd have been the comeback queen of campaign 2012. Instead, she started telling the story about the mother she met who claims her daughter developed "mental retardation" after getting the HPV vaccine. There's just a problem. It is scientifically impossible to develop retardation from the HPV vaccine. That's not to say mental retardation cannot happen from some vaccines. It can. It just cannot from HPV.But on she went with her attacks. The net result? On Monday night she raised the Merck campaign contribution issue about Rick Perry. By Tuesday, the media would have been in full pursuit of the crony capitalism story on Perry and his relationship to people who worked for Merck. Instead? Everyone focused on Bachmann's use of that unsubstantiated story and how it showed poor judgment on her part.She's fallen below Newt Gingrich in some polls. That latest might have been fatal.
Herman Cain's Iowa staff seems intent on finishing off his campaign. In an unemployment hearing, Cain's straw poll coordinator Kevin Hall, alleges a campaign cover up over a Cain staffer. The allegation is that the staffer is gay, was ousted from a gay pride group in Wisconsin after financial irregularities, and knowing all this the Cain campaign kept him on, lying about his role.The story seems to be a non-starter to me. There are no allegations that the staffer engaged in financial irregularities on the Cain campaign. However, the story is salacious enough and the former Iowa staffers are bitter enough about what they feel was a lack of time by Cain in the state that this story might have legs. Also, the issue came up in an unemployment hearing. The guy was under oath. And the Cain campaign lawyer did not object. That's pretty standard for stuff like this, but it gives a stronger air of authenticity to it and there being a problem.Nonetheless, this story isn't what has done in the Cain campaign. The campaign has not gotten traction. Complain all you want about a lack of media attention. But with this story now out there, a lack of media attention is a good thing.
I saw it with my own eyes on Monday night live at the CNN-Tea Party debate. Newt Gingrich did not engage.First, I just thought it was impressive that Wolf Blizter became the only debate moderator this cycle to not get attacked by Newt. Then I saw something happening that you couldn't really see if you weren't in the debate hall. While the candidates were debating, you'd frequently see some of the other candidates trying to get a word in — trying to engage.Newt did not. He did not engage except when questioned himself. And so it seems he did not get asked a lot of questions, but in fact the direct questions posed by Blitzer were balanced out. Gingrich just didn't try to get extra time like the other candidates. At least, not until the end when they were out of time and, I think, the issue was Afghanistan.I wasn't the only person there struck by this. He did great when he answered his questions, but he also seemed less engaged and off his game. At both this and the NBC Debate he seemed resigned to being the elder statesman herding the cats to the finish line — Moses who does not cross into the promised land, but gets everyone there. I think Newt is resigned to defeat, but wants to make sure the GOP wins.
Huntsman flamed out in the GOP debate. He was the most engaged he had been and gave the best answers he's given, but his Kurt Cobain and "treason" remarks are all anyone remembers. He's got staffers lamenting tea party activists on Facebook. His campaign seems aimless and accidental. He himself seems a bit out of it.I feel better about him than I did. The last two debates he has seemed more on the team than off the team. But he is such a smart guy I cannot believe, like with Gingrich, that he looks at what is happening and sees an opportunity to win. There is no path to victory for the media's old flame who increasingly has even flamed out with the media.
The Ron Paul campaign continues to do exceedingly well in the polls. He has tapped into something the other candidates aren't, and I'm not just talking about crazy. But he won't be the nominee. Right now he seems only intent on destroying Rick Perry. Interestingly enough, some polls show his supporters are more likely to vote for Mitt Romney than Rick Perry. I find that surprising due to Romneycare, etc. But then polls also show he gets a lot of support from people who don't vote.He will not be the nominee.
Rick Perry won the debate on Monday if only by default. But Rick Perry is not a good debater. While the crowd was with him, Perry was great. When the crowd turned on him on the HPV issue, Perry went down hill and did so fast. He is not a good debater.He has three more debates. But I think Perry has locked in his lead with Mitt Romney's help. The two big issues in Campaign 2012 are Obamacare and fiscal issues. Romney sticks with Romneycare and goes at Perry from the left with entitlement reform. Those two things help Rick Perry in a way Perry is not helping himself. HPV can be overcome. Thanks to Bachmann's overreach it is largely not an issue any longer. Immigration won't play well with the tea party movement, but Perry can salve some of the disagreement with a better explanation of what Texas did and it also helps him with non-tea party Republicans who are now taking him seriously.Suddenly this race is his to lose. And barring any major stumbles from this point forward, Perry is the nominee.
The most important, but ignored, polling number in CNN's poll this week is the one that explains the entire race. "Which candidate is most likely to fight for what they believe?" Rick Perry scored 29%. Mitt Romney scored 11%.The prior flip-flops in Romney's record are weighing him down as an opportunist. Voters want a fighter. They also want to know what they are getting. Voters may not agree with Perry, but they think they know what they are getting with him and not with Romney. Voters don't want to wind up with another conservative who turns out to be a "big government" conservative.That poll number hurts Romney. Likewise, the air of inevitability hurts Romney. Until Perry got in the race, Romney was the consistent winner of the question "regardless of whether you support the candidate or not, which candidate do you think will win?" Consistently Romney won. And that number is a huge psychological plus because undecided voters want to support the winner. So if they think he'll win, the undecideds will move to that person toward the end.That person is no longer Mitt Romney. Compound that with people's lack of faith in Romney really telling them what he believes in and you have a tough, though not insurmountable, hill for Romney to climb over.I've said for a long time that as the field consolidated, Romney would poll worse and worse. It is happening.
Admiral Stockdale began his famous 1992 debate against Dan Quayle and Al Gore with "Who am I? Why am I here?" Everyone laughed. Rick Santorum is Admiral Stockdale. He will not be the nominee.