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Can Rick Perry snatch the New Hampshire primary from Mitt Romney?

A new poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire GOP primary shows Mitt Romney at 36 percent, followed by Rick Perry at 18 percent. It was ‘a strong first showing’ for Mr. Perry, NH Journal said.

By Staff writer / August 17, 2011

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks in Bedford, N.H., on Aug. 17.

Cheryl Senter/AP

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Washington

Imagine former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, comfortably campaigning in next-door New Hampshire, keeping the home fires warm as he heads toward an anticipated win in the first primary early in 2012. Then the pugnacious governor of Texas, Rick Perry, jumps in and threatens to take it all away.

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Could Governor Perry actually succeed?

A poll released Wednesday of likely voters in the New Hampshire GOP primary shows Mr. Romney retaining his lead: 36 percent, followed by Perry at 18 percent, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas at 14 percent, and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at 10 percent. The poll, taken for NH Journal by the Republican firm Magellan Strategies, is the first out of New Hampshire since Perry entered the race on Aug. 13.

NH Journal called it “a strong first showing” for Perry in its poll.

But as expected, New Hampshire is still Romney’s to lose. And it’s too soon, really, to judge how Perry might do there. But as he makes his first campaign swing around the state Wednesday and Thursday, it’s clear he’s getting a serious look from Republican voters.

The big question is whether someone who is so culturally different from a typical New Hampshirite that he might as well be from Outer Mongolia can gain traction in the Granite State.

“Perry has all sorts of potential, some of it good, some bad,” says Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party who is neutral in the primary race. “I do think it’s possible he could take off and be a very strong candidate, and I also think it’s possible that he could go nowhere.”

Mr. Cullen attended Perry’s appearance Wednesday morning at a business leaders’ breakfast and felt Perry didn’t perform all that well – he seemed tired – an impression shared by other attendees. But he had clearly gotten the memo on how to talk to New Hampshire voters: Don’t use religious language, don’t talk social issues. Perry, a devout evangelical who just hosted a big prayer rally in Houston on Aug. 6, focused on jobs and the economy.

Perry is also helped by the fact that his top political adviser, Dave Carney, is a native of New Hampshire, which gives the governor credibility with some of the state’s political insiders. And certainly Perry can boast big job creation as governor of Texas as a counterweight to Romney’s record as a businessman.

But whether enough New Hampshire Republicans can grow comfortable enough with Perry’s outsize Texas personality and thick drawl (eerily similar to President George W. Bush’s) to see him as the next president – and the best challenger to President Obama – is an open question. Look at the history of competitive New Hampshire Republican primaries, and you won’t find any true Southerners on the list of winners.

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