Perry’s Entry Upsets Republican Primary Race

The Texas governor could outshine other social conservatives in the race.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney listens to a question from a reporter at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, May 16
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney listens to a question from a reporter at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, May 16 (Reuters/Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun)

Texas governor Rick Perry declared himself a candidate for his party’s presidential nomination during a conservative conference in South Carolina on Saturday, adding his name to a crowded field of Republican Party contenders for the nation’s highest political office. The Texan’s entry is expected to upset the race as he might be uniquely qualified to unite social conservatives and Tea Party activists in the early primary states of Iowa and South Carolina.

Republican caucusgoers and primary voters in both states tend to be more conservative than right-wing voters in the northeast and Midwest of the country, forcing candidates to appeal to the base of their party early in the process before shifting to the center as the general elections begin to loom.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who chairs the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, is likely to fare well in Iowa where she won an influential straw poll this weekend. Pro-life and adamantly opposed to gay marriage, Bachmann is able to charm the religious right while speaking to small-government conservatives in the Tea Party with her fierce criticism of the president’s economic and health-care reform policies. She probably won’t come out on top in any of the other early primary states however where, despite high name recognition, her ballot support is limited.

Perry, by contrast, remains unknown with approximately half of the electorate but is widely perceived as more electable than Bachmann or former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, another culture warrior. A strong showing in Iowa in early February of next year could set the stage for an outright victory in South Carolina later that month, pitting the governor against frontrunner Mitt Romney who is popular in New Hampshire and Nevada. Both will organize primaries in February 2012 as well. Florida is expected to be fifth in March.

Romney, who also sought the nomination in 2008, faces opposition from former Utah governor Jon Huntsman who served as America’s ambassador to China before he resigned this summer to campaign. Both are considered moderates on cultural issues like abortion and gay marriage and both previously endorsed cap-and-trade proposals to combat greenhouse gas emissions — now an unpopular position among conservatives who are skeptical about global warming.

Huntsman, like Romney, is a member of the Mormon church headquartered in Utah and could do well in neighboring Nevada before competing with the former Massachusetts governor for a win in Florida where he based his campaign.