The Trouble with Romney and the Perils of Perry
If you're the Perry campaign, what's the path to victory? You have a real record and a strong, simple economic plan to run on. You have a lot of campaign cash, the ability to raise a lot more, and a true ground game where you need it. But you're fourth or fifth in the polls behind Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, neither of whom are serious contenders, and time is getting short. Primary polls at this point don't tell us where votes will be but they can create and reinforce public perceptions that a campaign is rising or dying, which will impact fundraising.
Rick Perry excels at retail politics and in one-on-ones with local and national media. His past campaigns have also excelled at social media. They have also excelled at attacking past opponents very effectively, but the current opponents, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, aren't likely to succumb to normal political opposition attacks. Romney's known knowns are baked in. Everyone knows he's a flip-flopper, but most Republicans are willing to vote for him against Obama if they have to. Herman Cain is too likeable and he's made of Teflon right now. Nothing is sticking to him. Attacks on Cain will blow back on whoever launches them.
So I don't think Perry can effectively attack either one without damaging himself. Bachmann is a good object lesson here. She went so negative so fast that she ended up destroying her own campaign. There's a very real risk that while Perry won't say the ridiculous things that Bachmann said to accelerate her downfall, he could nevertheless similarly damage himself in a sustained attack on Romney. Gingrich and Cain have stayed positive, and risen in the polls. But both Gingrich and Cain have questionable staying power.
The solution? Perry needs to go retail and talk radio/online media in a big way. Perry should forget the attacks on Romney, just deliver his message and explain his record in a disciplined and relentless way. Do multiple daily appearances in Iowa explaining his plans and message to everyday voters, get those appearances captured and posted on YouTube and moved on blogs and social media. Get them in the local newscasts. Run positive issue ads in Iowa and South Carolina. Attack Obama often, get under his skin and make him respond directly to you. Hit the president on specifics and show where, for instance, Perry's energy plan will undo the damage Obama is doing and thereby create jobs. As for the debates, attend some, skip some, as the schedule allows, but don't make an issue of skipping them and don't let them control the campaign schedule.
The Perry campaign has been a bit snakebit ever since the first debates he participated in. Time is short, but a moment can turn a campaign around. Creating some effective moments can shift the momentum very quickly.