Five Ways Rick Perry Changes The Primaries

August 16, 2011 5:15 a.m.

As we’ve seen from the brouhaha over Rick Perry’s Bernanke-bashing, the Texas Governor has the potential to shake up the GOP primaries. Merely by stepping into the ring the “good looking rascal,” as Bill Clinton called him, has changed the dynamic on a number of levels. Here are the top five.1. Romney: Inevitable No More

Up until this point, Romney has been running essentially a general election campaign against President Obama, ignoring the rest of the GOP candidates while establishing an air of inevitability on the strength of superior fundraising and superior national polling. That may have worked when his only real competition was Bachmann, who even Republicans find difficult to imagine as the nominee. But Perry is another story. He’s a credible Republican contender and skilled campaigner who will demand a direct response from Romney right from the start.

2. Social Conservatives Up For Grabs

Bachmann’s fundamentalist worldview has been a hit with social conservatives, especially in Iowa. Perry isn’t without his weaknesses when it comes to the social conservative vote, but his recent prayer rally and repudiation of his previous states’ rights take on gay marriage and abortion makes clear he’s going to compete aggressively for this key voting bloc.. A battle between Perry and Bachmann over social issues could drag the entire GOP primary away from the economic debate that the general election will almost certainly hinge on.

3. Iowa Becomes More Important

Mitt Romney invested a ton of time and resources into Iowa in 2008, only to get destroyed by Mike Huckabee’s modest operation. While not ignoring Iowa entirely, this time he’s looking to the less socially conservative New Hampshire to slingshot himself to the nomination. The strategy made sense when Iowa appeared Bachmann’s to lose, since it would have been easy to dismiss her win there as a product the state’s hardline GOP and her Iowa roots. If a legit heavyweight like Perry takes the caucuses, however, the momentum could carry over into a campaign-sealing surge in New Hampshire. This dynamic could force Romney to focus more attention on Iowa in the hopes of keeping Perry from going supernova early.

4. A Tale Of Two Governors

With Pawlenty gone and Jon Huntsman’s campaign a dud so far, Romney decisively owned the executive experience argument. Without getting into the details of his record, Romney had a very strong case against Bachmann that he’s had to deal with the actual challenges of governing while she’s achieved next to nothing as a Tea Party gadfly in the Congress. That won’t work against Perry, who boasts ten-plus years as governor of one of the largest states in the nation. Perry’s entrance could put more attention on the nitty gritty of Romney’s time as governor – a debate that Perry is happy to have given his more conservative list of accomplishments in deep red Texas. “Take a look at his record when he was governor, take a look at my record when I was governor,” Perry told Politico on Monday.

Romney is already adjusting to this new dynamic by playing up his business background as a contrast with the longtime public servant Perry. “Understanding how the economy works by having worked in the real economy is finally essential in the White House. And I hope people recognize that,” Romney told reporters on Monday. “I respect the other people in this race, but I think the only other person who has that kind of extensive private sector experience besides me in the Republican race is Herman Cain.”

5. Culling The Weak

It’s been fun watching the giant Republican field compete for the spotlight, but those days are coming to a close. Perry’s late entrance is likely the final blow to the second-tier candidates who have hung around up to this point waiting to catch a lucky break. With Perry, Bachmann, and Romney duking it out in the main stage, there’s no clear opening for any of the remaining candidates to make headway and no obvious demographic for them to court that isn’t covered by the big three. Pawlenty’s early exit may just be the start in winnowing down the list of contenders.

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