By Mark Rhoads
It should not be surprising that the first Gallup Poll since Gov. Rick Perry announced his active candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination shows him with a good lead over the previously media-ordained frontrunner Mitt Romney. Romney supporters are correct when they say he is a familiar brand name from 2008. His brand is not too negative with independents but his brand is not necessarily positive enough among conservative GOP primary voters who often make up the most active part of the GOP electorate that decides the nomination process.
No one has yet seen Perry perform in a debate and all GOP voters really know about Rick Perry so far is just a generally positive impression of his ten years as the governor of a huge GOP state with 38 Electoral votes vs. a single term of four years by Romney in a normally liberal Democratic state where Romney did not govern as a conservative and where he chose not to compete for a second term in 2006.
There are mostly two strategies that win presidential campaigns. The first is the conversion strategy which requires that a candidate “convert” voters from the other party or from independents to get to a plurality of the popular vote. Romney supporters are trying to sell their favorite as a conversion candidate who can appeal to Democrats and independents just as if his 2002 voters in Massachusetts were a microcosm of the national electorate in 2012 which sounds like a fairly crazy premise. The second winning campaign strategy is one that fires up the base of the party to boost turnout and Perry supporters say that he is that kind of base-building candidate. Which strategy is better in a particular year often depends on the demographics of the states needed to assemble a majority in the Electoral College. Here is where Perry has a common-sense advantage over Romney.
Romney could run a perfect conversion campaign and never convert enough Democrats and independents to carry states such as New York (31), Pennsylvania (21), California (55), or even his home state of Massachusetts (12), or Michigan where his father was governor (17) or his Mormon base state of Utah (5).
Perry has a good chance to run a turnout the base campaign with good energy in Texas (38), to win back the 2008 Obama states of Florida (25), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Ohio (20), and Indiana (11) which added to the 2000, 2004, 2008 GOP states (minus Texas at the old value of 34) gets a GOP candidate to about 260 votes with only ten more needed for a majority of 270. The ten votes could come from converting Wisconsin (10), Minnesota (10), or a combination of Iowa (7) and New Mexico (5) (for plus 11) or Colorado (9) with a New England small state.
The Electoral vote math simply makes it plain that Perry can have an easier path to winning back the former GOP states that Bush and McCain carried to reach the number 270. Romney could have a long-shot chance to carry Nevada (5) due to a Mormon base there and his moderate image might help just a little in states such as Oregon (7) or Washington (11) but the trade-off is that Romney is a more difficult sale in southern states than Perry is and those states from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River south of the Mason-Dixon line combine to make up a critical 60 Electoral Votes for the GOP. McCain carried those states even in 2008 in a very tough election for the GOP.
A base-building campaign does not mean you ignore converting independents or Democrats. When Democrats stay home, they tip the balance to the GOP. Given the massive unemployment numbers well above the national average in blue states such as Michigan and California, even those state could be put in play. But if they are in play, or if Pennsylvania and New Jersey are in play, then it does not matter who the GOP nominee is since that person will likely defeat Obama in the Electoral College in any event.
The secondary explanation for the dip by Romney to a standing below Perry in the Gallup Poll is just that Romney has been around the track before and it is not playing out to his advantage. GOP voters have already taken the measure of Romney in the 2008 primary season and he came up short. So if logic favors a governor, it favors Perry over Romney at this point since both will be able to raise enough money to compete in media-driven states.
(Also published in Illinois Review)