Is Rick Perry’s polling lead fading? The Washington Post’s Jen Rubin takes note:
As I wrote yesterday, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of national polling early in a presidential primary. But direction does matter. When Fred Thompson’s national poll numbers started diving in 2007 after a splashy entrance, many conservatives figured he was a flash in the pan. Donors recognized that as well. Conversely when Barack Obama started eating into Hillary Clinton’s huge lead in the polls Democrats started taking him seriously, and endorsements and money soon followed.
When Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the GOP primary more than a month ago, he quickly soared to double-digit leads in all of the national polls. The last three polls — Bloomberg (4 points), ABC/Washington Post (6 points) and Gallup/USA Today (7 points) — show his lead has shrunk considerably.
Late arriving “savior” candidates enjoy a great advantage and a related disadvantage. The advantage is that they’re immediately able to vacuum up that portion of the electorate that’s hungry for something else, for the “true conservative” to come in and carry the day. As a result, they can leapfrog over candidates who’ve already spent months (and millions of dollars) on the campaign trail.
The disadvantage is that savior status carries with it a huge load of expectations. Yet invariably the new arrival is a real-live human being, with flaws, quirks, and a tainted record. Fred Thompson had a pro-choice past. Rick Perry has the state DREAM Act, the HPV vaccine, and a number of other issues. Stylistically, Fred Thompson wasn’t as charismatic as people hoped, while Perry hasn’t exactly stormed the stage in the debates.
As Rubin notes, there’s more than enough time for Perry to get his mojo back:
But Perry could arrest any erosion and, in fact, reinforce his front-runner status if he did several things. First and foremost, he could stop the nerve-jangling in the GOP by coming out with common sense, effective entitlement reforms. He’d also be showing leadership since his main rivals haven’t done that. Second, he should, while it is still early, start, figuratively, clearing out the garbage littering his path to the nomination. That means addressing financial issues and renouncing silly recommendations in his book (e.g. allowing states to legalize pot). It’s easier to do it now than when his opponents start airing attack ads, as they surely will. Third, he needs to turn in an impressive debate speech in which he has polished answers, not one-liners, to important questions. If he gives another poor performance, the doubts about his candidacy will escalate. And finally, he should stop hiding from the media. Do some Sunday talk shows. Sit down with a national newspaper’s editorial board. Take questions regularly on the stump. If he doesn’t, others will set the narrative.
I especially agree that he needs to turn it up a notch in debates. A truly outstanding debate performance would virtually by itself reverse his erosion in the polls. When we watch the debates, we’re looking for the candidate who can stand on that stage and go toe to toe with Obama. That means he’s got to provide substantive answers, delivered with confidence (but not cockiness), and he’s got to be able to deflect attacks with more ease than he has so far.
If he can master the debates, he reverses his polling trend. If he can’t, then the road gets rocky indeed.