Even as he meets with potential top donors, Rick Perry has yet to decide if he’s running for president. But two polls released this week indicate that if the Texas governor chooses to do so, he would enter the race better positioned than rivals who have campaigned for far longer.
The still-undeclared Perry -- who has promised to make a decision in the next few weeks -- received 11 percent of Republicans' support in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey of the GOP presidential field, trailing only Rep. Michele Bachmann and early primary front-runner Mitt Romney. Nine percent of GOP voters picked Perry as their second choice, according to the poll, tied for third highest.
The results are good for Perry, and bad for two of his top potential opponents. The Texas governor’s totals dwarf those of ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Each of them, at one time considered among the most likely to win the party’s nomination, got the backing of just 2 percent of Republicans surveyed – meaning their combined support was less than half of Perry’s.
A second poll released on Tuesday also showed a bright result for Perry. Gallup reported that Republicans who know the Texas governor hold an overwhelmingly positive view of him. Perry received a net positive intensity score – the measure of how many voters strongly approve of a candidate minus those who strongly disapprove -- of 21 points. It was the same score as Bachmann’s, an indication that Perry's backers share the fervent support that has sparked the Minnesota House member's meteoric rise in recent polls.
Perry’s name identification still stood at just 55 percent, Gallup reported, well below rivals Romney, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But it was the same percentage as Pawlenty's and higher than Huntsman's, whose name ID stands at only 41 percent.
Perry possesses strong numbers even though he is not yet an official candidate and has considered entering the race only in recent months. Pawlenty, meanwhile, has been a de facto candidate most of the year, has been treated as one of the front-runners by most of the press, and has participated in both presidential debates. Huntsman has more of an excuse, having returned from China in the spring as U.S. ambassador there, but months on the campaign trail have yet to produce gains for him in most polls.
Pawlenty's and Huntsman's struggles should hearten Perry: If he runs, he will compete with the them to become the alternative to the front-running Romney. Poor showings from the two former governors could coalesce support of the anti-Romney vote behind Perry.
Good showings in national polls, of course, don’t necessarily translate into success in the primaries. Perry’s support could come in large part from Republican voters who view the current crop of candidates as lackluster, as a recent Gallup poll found. The moment he declares a campaign is also the moment voters, not to mention the press and rival campaigns, will scrutinize him more closely.
Moreover, Pawlenty and Huntsman have had time to build organizations in early states and to collect supporters across the country – advantages that don't necessarily show in national polls but could play a key role as the early contests approach. Perry's political adviser, Dave Carney, indicated in an interview last week with National Journal that determining whether the governor can count on enough support from GOP officials across the country remains among the biggest obstacles to declaring a campaign.
At the time, Carney said that Perry remains on the fence about running even as he aggressively courts Republicans nationwide.
This article appears in the July 20, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.